Archive for October, 2011

A Heart Needs A Home

October 19, 2011

I’m home.

All boxes ticked, all goals achieved. 3,500 miles travelled, 3,500 photos taken. That’s a satisfying figure, but don’t get the impression I was stopping every mile! I’m blogging this a few days after getting back, in fact. I thought this might be long enough to have given me some idea of the effect the trip has had on me. Sadly, it’s too soon to say. What I can admit to is that I am very relaxed, and very contented about the whole thing.

I had several specific aims – the European Masters Games, some time in the Dolomites, a photographic project, and the like, but these were couched in a pretty loose framework of travel and accommodation. I wanted to keep it loose and follow my nose for a bit, having become too accustomed to needing to be at a specify place at a specific time. Only two pieces of accommodation were pre-booked more than a couple of days in advance. The rest was done using the very able iPad app, backed up by reviews I’d read on TripAdvisor. Those really are good tools, by the way. I am glad about this looseness, because it allowed me to re-plan around the only piece of bad weather I encountered. Actually, I ended up with only one wet day in six weeks, plus a couple of close encounters with early winter snow in the Alps. Not bad going, eh?

I thought I’d find turning for home hard, but I managed to make the return legs of the journey a necessary part of the trip, without being so interesting I was tempted to linger further. If I hadn’t been ready to go home (though I was), my wife was keen for me to get back. It was, of course, by her generous agreement that the whole thing happened at all. We did the Venice bit together, of course, and that helped make the thing perhaps seem like two three-week trips. Perhaps.

Coming home was like a time warp. So little had changed. It was just like time travel, really. While I was away, there were moments when time seemed to stand still, and days passed deliciously slowly. I’ve taught enough time management in my time to know that’s nonsense, of course, but I can’t help feeling that was what happened. I’ve also been augmenting my enjoyment and my increasingly poor memory by pretty much constantly playing each day of the trip in succession as a “video in my head”. This is being helped hugely by having shot something like 8 hours of video, mostly while riding the more scenic parts of my route, like the Galibier Pass and the Stelvio Pass. These clips are going to have a wonderfully therapeutic power on bad days to come.

One thing I am very glad of is that in six weeks, I didn’t suffer any spell of significant depression. I feared this quite a lot to begin with. Too bad and it might have caused me to turn for home prematurely. I had several very lonely days, of course. Even now, I choke at how it felt to wander the alleyways of Venice on the day that I’d seen my wife off at the airport. However, in the main, every day had an aim and a purpose, and ended with an outcome.

I am enormously glad I decided to take on the photographic project I’ve mentioned before in this blog. There were times when my shoulders and back were not so glad of my having chosen to lug around a big Bronica GS medium format camera and all the bits that go with it. But working with film, and a great big camera (believe me!) was a very refreshing change from digital snappery, and I’m looking forward to the 14 rolls of film coming back from processing (remember that feeling?). I’m then going to have great fun editing the shots and beginning to assemble them for a future web site. Stay tuned.

Oh, by the way, my travelling companion had a good time, too.

Content with his lot


Tomorrow is a long time

October 12, 2011

You can get the words to this one here They’re relevant.

So, the big adventure my little furry friend and I have been on for nearly six weeks is reaching its end. As I write, two more nights and I expect to be home. Basically just a load of miles to do now, one of which will see me top 3,000 miles since I left home. I’ve been spending increasing amounts of time wondering why I really did it, what it’s achieved, whether it will “change” me, and so on. Just wondering, mind you. No conclusions. I’m not home yet.

This blog is principally about running and racing. Forgive me if it might not have seemed like that for the past few episodes. A nagging thought in the back of my mind since early on has also been that this trip has some similarities with my running. I’ll not stretch the analogy too far, but you’ll get the drift.

Basically, I run because I can. I am very mindful of, and at times driven by, memories of the years when significant back injury meant I couldn’t. I’m in no way trying to make up for lost time, though. My attitude on that point is aptly summed up by the lyrics of a song recorded by the great Nic Jones (words here). Who is to say that, without that injury, which put paid to many years of quite high level performance, I’d still be running?

Not only because I can, but because I choose to. I know many fit people who could, but don’t, by choice. Some have stopped, others never started. Others are just put off by the whole “older athlete” thing. I tackled this head on in a rather well received essay I wrote a couple of years back, called “Heroes of Freaks”, which you can read here .

I could also have gone with the flow of the “running boom” and decided that, although I was a sprinter once, I’ll be a casual marathon runner now. I chose to remain a sprinter, knowing it would never be easy. It never was.

The similarities with my recent travels relate to things like: a) a middle-aged man doing something most would have thought he’d have got out of his system years ago; b) me chosing to do this as a means to at least mark, if not celebrate, my retirement from work, as opposed simply to putting my feet up and lounging back; c) me chosing to make this thing pretty difficult – a photographic assignment, high standard international races, and time in several different mountain areas all thrown into the mix.

As an analogy or parallel with sport, the trip has ticked some boxes, therefore. basically, I chose to do something out of the mainstream, and did it the difficult way.

That’s pretty satisfying, when I put it like that.


October 10, 2011

Title comes from another Strawbs song, and is a bit appropriate right now. Words here.

I’m in Chamonix. It’s been both an exciting and a restful few days since the last blog, but now my big trip begins to have a sense of going home. Its own “autumn”, if you like. My weather has turned. I’ve had a bit of re-planning of my itinerary, which was only ever vague to begin with, and a couple of lucky escapes from early snow. Snow might be ok in a car with snow tyres or chains, but on a large and heavy loaded motorbike, it is no go.

I was sorry to leave the Dolomites, especally as it was on a very murky morning, which robbed me of the final photo I needed for my big project. However, I’d been in a rather indifferent hotel for a couple of nights, one in which non-smokers were a beleagured minority, and so the fresh air was welcome. My route to Andermatt, in Switzerland, involved some back-tracking, but also took me through places I had travelled a few years ago, and wanted to see again.There was also a race on. Against the weather, this time.

For several days, the forecasts had been certain – the Central Alps was in for some snow and a real freeze. I’d abandoned a few days’ plans in faour of a couple of nights luxury near the Italian Lakes, but I had to get there first. Dropping into Andermatt, in central Switzerland, gave all the signals that big weather changes were imminent, with black skies on the horizon. I had an anxious night as it rained with snow forecast, and I rode out of the town after breakfast as heavy snow began to fall. Fortunately, my route was pretty much straight into the 17km long Gotthard Tunnel, heading south, under the mountains. At the other end, it was dry and sunny. Such is Alpine weather.

There was a similar fortunate escape crossing the Simplon Pass, on my way over towards France two days later. Major snow had clipped the area about two hours before I passed through. There was masses of the stuff on the mountains and on the roadsides, but the black stuff was clear.

Chamonix was freezing when I got here. Almost literally. Two degrees. Remember, I’ve been used to 29 degrees recently. Overnight, it rained. I could hear it all night. I expected to wake to oodles of the white stuff. Not a problem this time – I have three nights here. However, it also warmed up a lot, and the rain actually stripped off a lot of snow laying below 1,500 metres.

So, I’m writing this at breakfast before a morning spent wandering around the outdoor equipment shops etc of Chamonix. Plenty of them to keep me occupied. Having no room for any more luggage is a good antidote to retail therapy, too. Wish me luck!

Next blog is likely to be about going home.

Glimpse of Heaven

October 4, 2011

I was weaving my way up the Pordoi Pass, just clearing the tree line and getting the day’s first real look at the mountains, when the bike’s stereo came up with The Strawbs “Glimpse of Heaven”. One of those totally appropriate moments.

Heaven, in that sense, would be unremittingly rocky, drawn like a child would draw mountains, and with a sky of the deepest blue imaginable. Such clouds as there would be would only be there for dramatic effect. There would be next to nobody else about, and I’d have endless power in my camera batteries, and loads of space on the cards in the cameras. Yup, by that token, the day was indeed one in Heaven. But then, so was the next, and the next, and….

However, all good things must come to an end, and today is effectively the day I start to point this trip of mine in a vaguely homeward direction. By a rough calculation, I’ll be back in ten days from now. In part, I’m taking the philosophical view that all good things must come to an end. On a more practical note, places I have been going to are now very much gearing down for the break between summer and skiing. It’s actually getting difficult to guarantee somewhere for a meal of an evening. This weather, perfect though it may have been for weeks, is not going to hold, and a mountain area in the first storms of autumn is somewhere I want to avoid, being as I am travelling on two wheels.

I have had amazing success with the photographic project that was to form a backbone of this trip. As a reminder, I’ve been aiming to take a 2011 equivalent of each of 36 photos I have in a hand-made book, taken in the Dolomites in about 1911. I’d estimated possibly several years to complete the groundwork for this. At time of posting this, I have 33 of the 36 in the can, all shot on large format film, and backed up with digital versions from the same spot. I’ve got there by good weather, principally, coupled with (in order of importance) good luck, hard graft and good local knowledge of some areas. An early job upon return will be to track down somewhere that can develop the negatives really well. I also need to be turning my thoughts to the sort of web site the stuff will be going on to. I’ve been working on notes for the accompanying words on several evenings while dining.

Before I finish here, I have a day to capture two of the final photos. The third one is just going to have to wait. It was taken from a very inaccessible place high in the mountains, which I have visited once before. Whatever else I have with me on this trip, I am not equipped to get back up there solo or safely. Impressed that the original photographer managed with, I think, a 5×4 plate camera. I quite like the idea of having one piece of the jigsaw still needing to be fitted. An excuse to return, were one really to be needed.

My choice of hotel for the next couple of nights has not been a good one. This one flouts EC law on smoking in indoors, and will be the subject of a flaming review from me on the bookings web site I used, which is normally so reliable.

I’m hoping I’ll be in Switzerland for the next blog.