Hebridean Way – Oban to Barra (Iain)

Barradise

“Do you sell bike tubes?”

I was in a bike shop in Oban. In ten minutes time, I was due to leave on a ferry to the Isle of Barra.

My wife and her family were going to cycle the Hebridean way – a 185 mike ride from the Isle of Barra to the Isle of Lewis via the Isles of Eriskay, South Uist,Benbecula, Berneray, Harris.

The route

My role for the trip was to drive a support car. It was a nice change not to have to be the one doing an event. My only responsibilities were to ensure they didn’t get lost, that I had carried their supplies and luggage in the car, and that I could fix their bikes if their was an issue.

There was only one problem. I forgot to bring any spare bike tubes. If any of them got a puncture they be walking rather than biking the route.

“What size do you need?” The bike shop worked asked.

“700×25 or 700×28” I replied. I was confident he’d have some. They are the most commonly used bike tube sizes.

“Sorry. I don’t stock those sizes!”

I was shocked but I didn’t wait around to debate the merit of a bike shop not stocking the one tube most cyclists need. I ran to the other side of Oban to see if the only other bike shop in town stocked them.

Thankfully they had some. I made it back to the car just in time to board the ferry.

I spotted a number of cyclists waiting to board. They were all female. The weather forecast for Barra was wet and wild. Does this mean male cyclists are wise or does it mean they are big girls blouses scared of a little rain?

Despite all the cyclists boarding the ferry, we didn’t see a single cyclists whilst doing the Heb way route.

The ferry was the one that used to do the Stornaway to Ullapool route. I’d taken it many times. It was looking a bit tatty compared to when I was last on it.

There wasn’t many passengers on board. I had the dinning room area entirely to myself. Mainly due to it being a rough crossing. Nobody wanted food, they were all lying down seasick.

What folk don’t realize is that the dining room is actually the best place to be. They were all in the observation lounge which is at the top and front of the ferry. The place which experiences the most ship movement.

If you want a smooth journey sit in the middle of the ferry on the lowest floor. Where the dining room was.

We arrived in Castlebay in time for dinner. My wife and her sister are both vegan. I looked at the menu. It was very meaty and fishy. There was only one vegetarian option and that had cheese in it.

I asked the waitress if they did any vegan options. “Yes – we do chips”

After dinner we checked into the bed and breakfast. I asked the owners what the vegan breakfast options were available? She replied “toast”

It’s fair to say the Hebrides has not yet embraced veganism.

Other vegan options we were offered on the trip were

Blue cheese and broccoli soup. Cheese isn’t vegan
Lentil and bacon soup. Yes – really. Bacon!
Smoked salmon. What do you mean fish isn’t vegan?

Outdoor Swim Review: the Arabian Ocean (Andrew)

It’s coming to the end of the outdoor swimming season. The thought of swimming in budgie smugglers is as appealing as actually smuggling a budgie in your pants. Wetsuits have become obligatory and swim caps have been replaced by swim hoods. It’s getting colder and the only thing worse than cold water is…. hot water.

I was lucky enough to swim in the Arabian Sea last month. I had a stop over in Dubai, the hotel was next to the beach and I decided that a 42 degree day would be ideal time to swim in the ocean. I was wrong.

As soon as I got in I felt like a teabag in a cup of lukewarm tea. The water was too hot. It would have made a nice temperature for soup. Every time I ducked my head I felt like I was going to come out as red as a lobster after five minutes in the pot.

What was going on? I’d never swum in water like this before. There was no cold shock when I started to wade in. No head chill from ducking below a wave. It was almost… pleasant!

I couldn’t take it. It was just too nice!

It was then I remembered swimming in Norway two years ago in the Norseman practice swim. Competitors from around the world had travelled to a Norwegian fjord and had braced themselves for near arctic chills and icy waters. Iain and I checked the temperature, saw it was 16 degrees and warm for Scotland and jumped in without wetsuits.

“Are you mad?’ A man cried.

“No, we’re Scottish” we said.

“No, you must be SALMON!” He said firmly as he finished pulling on gloves, socks and three swim caps.

And that made me realise that everyone’s idea of extreme is different. For him, 16 degrees was as cold as a Penguin eating a Magnum while watching Frozen in the middle of the Arctic circle. While, for us, 16 degrees may as well have been as comfy as a towel straight from the tumble dryer.

But swimming in warm water is just madness. The whole point of swimming is to cool off, to feel nice and refreshed and you just can’t do that with an ocean warm enough to make Earl Grey tea.

I doff my 5 inch thick swim cap to all the warm weather swimmers. The one’s who can swim all year round and never reach that optimum temperature of 14 degrees when the water is as refreshing as a gazpacho soup. The one’s who never get the benefit of swimming with a five inch thick wetsuit so buoyant it could turn you into balloon. After swimming in the Arabian Sea I can see that all of you who swim in warm water all year round are truly the extreme swimmers!

Outdoor Swim Review: Portobello Beach (Iain)

At my workplace, I sit next to a Dutchman. Last Friday, he asked me what my plans for the weekend were. I told him I was going to a Wim Hof Method workshop.

Wim is also Dutch. His nickname is The Iceman because of his ability to endure cold conditions. He has swam under the ice at the North Pole, he can sit in ice baths for 90 minutes and he ran a marathon in the Arctic Circle shirtless and shoeless. I assumed he must be very famous in Holland.

My colleague looked at me and said “Wim who????”

Wim needs to work harder on his Dutch PR.

My colleague then asked what the Wim Hof Method is?

“If I knew what his method was I wouldn’t be going on the course!” I replied.

#spoileralert (Don’t read on if you don’t want the method spoiled)

The Wim Hof Method can be summed up as “remember to breathe when you go experience cold conditions. Also try to go in cold conditions regularly”.

It was a fun class and I took away a lot of information about breathing correctly. Which is more than can be said for one attendee who, when told to breath calmly and gently, exhaled his breath so violently through his nose it was like a volcanic eruption of snot and air.

Despite the instructor reminding everyone to breathe calmly, the volcano continued his overly enthusiastic eruptions. I think he was trying to impress his partner who was also attending the course. Like a gorilla in the jungle marking their territory by huffing, puffing, and bashing their chest he was making sure she knew he was the manliest breather in the room.

When it came to the exposure to the cold we had to swim in skins in the North Sea. Unsurprisingly Wim Kong – the breathing gorilla was first to run in. I hope, like a gorilla, he didn’t piss in the water to mark his territory!

REVIEW

Ease of Access: Portabello is close to Edinburgh. Parking near the beach can be tricky but normally a space can be found in a side street

Water quality:  Murky. I was once told that it was a beach best to avoid for swimming due to nearby sewage pipers. I don’t know whether that is true or not but its always put me off.

Swim Quality: Cold. Water temperature was 12.2. I managed 10 minutes of skin swimming (without a cap) There wasn’t anywhere to swim to so I just swam aimlessly and admired the view of the town.

Other People: Even on a cold, grey, dreich day the beach was busy with walkers and dogs.

Would I go back: No. I’d rather travel a bit further and go to the beaches in East Lothian. They are sandier and more enjoyable to be at.

Warming up before swimming

Outdoor Swim Review: Elie Beach (Iain)

My first ever sea swim was at Elie Beach. It was a charity event that had been advertised as a 1 mile swim in a flat calm bay. Unfortunately for me the remnants of a Caribbean hurricane had raced across the Atlantic just in time for the swim start.

The wind was fierce. It was so strong the woman’s Open Golf Championship at nearby St Andrews cancelled the days play because of fears for the safety of fans and players.

Upon hearing that the golf was cancelled I fully expected my sea swim to be cancelled too. If it was too unsafe to be on land then it was definitely too unsafe to be off it!

The event was not cancelled. I stood on the beach hoping, until the last moment, the organizers would see sense and postpone the swim. They didn’t see sense. A whistle was blown and the swim began.

I ran into the water and immediately ran back out again. I’d forgotten my goggles.

I put on goggles. I ran back into the water and tried to swim freestyle. I lasted one stroke before a huge wave smashed into the side of my head knocking my googles off. I hadn’t put them on very well.

Thankfully I could stand as the sea wasn’t very deep. I stood up and put my goggles on tight. I tried free style again but this time a wave struck me in the face whilst my mouth was open. Unlike Monika Lewinsky, I swallowed. I spluttered to a stop as my lungs filled with sea water. I stood up again. I still hadn’t made it very far but at least my goggles had stayed on.

I composed myself and decided to do the only thing I could think of to get through it. I changed to breast stroke so I could see the waves coming. I could then take evasive action and duck under the wave before they hit me.

I managed to do the swim. I was slow and it was deeply unpleasant but it had one positive effect. Since then I’ve not been scared of bad conditions at sea. Every swim seems gentle compared to this one.

My first time in a wet suit at Elie.

REVIEW

Ease of Access: Excellent. Elie beach can be accessed from any part of the town. Elie is in the East Neuk of Fife which is 90 minutes from Glasgow or 60 minutes from Edinburgh. Its a great spot for weekend breaks as the weather is normally better here than anywhere else. Mainly because rain predominately arrives from the west. The rest of Scotland gets wet first and the rain has run out before it gets to Elie.

Water quality:  On a good day the water is clear but mostly when I’ve been its been cloudy.

Swim Quality: Excellent – the sea was calm and there were views of the pretty town. Water temperature was 13.5C in late September. There is options to swim from one end of the beach to the other or to go further out and swim around a light on a rock.

Other People: Elie is a popular place. In summer it can be mobbed but outside school holidays its much more pleasant. Mostly folks walking their dog.

Would I go back: Yes. I swim here whenever I’m in Fife.

Worst Tip Ever (Andrew)

I was reading an article with tips for taking part in triathlons when I spotted the tip above, possibly the worst tip ever because, if everyone followed it, there would be no bike pumps to hand out!

“Excuse me, can I borrow your bike pump?”

“Sorry, I don’t have one, I thought you did.”

“Why would I have one? I was following the top tips for triathletes!”

“So was I!”

“Damn!”

“Bugger – none of us has a bike pump! Does anyone know if you can inflate a tyre by blowing in it?!”

For a sport where drafting is banned, where competing on your own is the goal, this must rank as the worst tip of the year.

Great gigs: Oasis – Irvine – 1995 (Iain)

Have you ever gone deaf? Have you ever experienced ringing in your ears so loud it feels like your head is an alarm clock? Have you ever seen Oasis play live?

I’ve seen Oasis. They were the first gig I ever attended. It was 1995 in Irvine and it cost me £12.50. Nowadays some concerts charge that for a pint of beer.

Oasis where not the first musical act to visit the Ayrshire coast. Elvis Presley’s only UK visit occurred when his plane landed near to Irvine at Prestwick Airport. He did not get out of his plane. Do you want to know how bad Prestwick Airport is? Even Ryanair has stopped flying from there. No wonder Elvis stayed on the plane.

I went with Andrew to the gig. It was one of our first trips by ourselves away from home. I remember standing outside the tent. I was as excited as I was terrified. Thoughts rushing round my mind – “Will they play Live Forever? Will I get crushed in the mosh pit? How will I get home? Do I look cool with my Liam haircut?”

The answer to the last question was 100% no. Thankfully, the 1990’s are an era I have very few photos of as the word had not yet invented “selfies” or “doing it for the gram.” I have no record of my dubious haircuts or fashion decisions.

The last thing I said to Andrew before going into the tent was “Stay together but if we get separated meet me at entrance.”

We headed into the tent. These days when I attend a concert I want a comfy seat, a good view and an interval at half time so I can go for a lie down. Back then all we wanted was to be right at the front of the stage so I could jump, sing and go deaf due to being too close to the speakers.

We managed to stay together…until the music started. The crowd started moshing, Andrew was dragged off to my left and I found myself spinning round in a circle in the middle of the tent.

This was amazing. My mind was blown and so were my ear drums due to the noise.

I cannot remember anything of the gig after this point. Which means it must have been good!

A review of the gig

Afterward I waited for Andrew at the entrance. He didn’t turn up. This worried me. Not because I was worried about him but because he was the one who knew how to get home. I was also worried because I couldn’t hear properly. There was an incessant ringing noise in my head drowning all other noises out.

I waited as long as I could but eventually had to run to catch the last train to Glasgow. Thankfully someone showed me the way to the train station. I got there just in time. I jumped on the first carriage that had space in it. I sat on the only empty chair on the carriage. I turned to see who I was sitting next to – it was Andrew!

“ALLRIGHT?” He shouted. In the manner of a man who couldn’t hear himself properly due to deafness.

“PARDON!” I said. Not being sure what he said due to the ringing in my ears.

It was three days later before we could properly hear each other.

It didn’t stop us going to concerts and as its the off season for racing I’m going to recall some of the good, the bad and the I can’t actually believe I paid money to see Brittney Spears gigs.

OASIS GIG REVIEWS (FROM MEMORY)

Aug 4th 1996 – Loch Lomond – Great show despite crowd issues.
Jan 21st 1996 – Ingliston Showground – Terrible Show.
April 26th 1996 – Maine Road- Best gig I ever saw them do
Dec 14 2005 -SECC – Terrible show.
Nov 13 2002 – Braehead Arena – The best I’ve heard Liam sing.

When the were great they were GREAT but when they off form….oh dear.

Oasis gigs I can remember attending. There might be others that I’ve forgotten about.

The Day After (Andrew)

James Bond stands triumphant. Blofeld is dead. The nucleur missile launch has been averted and the world is safe once more. Bond is bloodied, bruised and mildly blootered after too many shaken and not stirred martinis. But he doesn’t feel it – at least not until the next day…

When he goes to Tesco and buys some milk because the milk in the fridge went off while he was trotting around the globe; when he pops into the dry cleaners to remove the lipstick from his dinner jacket after a night with Blofeld’s beautiful assistant; when he slumps in front of Homes for the Hammer and thinks “you’d think I’d have got more than one day off before I have to go back to work and sit at my desk and catch up with all the emails I haven’t answered – I don’t want to go to work tomorrow!!!”.

Of course, he could skip work. But just because you’re a commander of the British Navy and an MI6 agent with a licence to kill doesn’t mean you can take your own holidays when the rest of the department has already booked it because it’s schools week. You try not turning up for work. You won’t be handed a Walter PPK again, you’ll be handed a P45.

I love thinking about the day after. What happens next for the heroes and villains we read and watch? Did Robocop rescue a kitten from a tree the day after he brought down Omnicorp? Did Hannibal Lecter have a chicken pot noodle because he’d ran out of livers and a nice chianti? What does Darth Vadar do on his day off? Does he, like Boris Johnson, paint buses using cardboard boxes?!? What happens the day after?

No one ever talks about the day after because nothing happens the day after. The adrenalin is gone. The action is over. It’s all admin, resting, cleaning up and blocking the number of the beautiful assistant from your phone as you don’t want to accidently answer it after she betrayed you and tried to kill you with a booby trapped piranha tank.

It’s no different from triathletes. Think about the day after a race. What happens then? You might have to travel, spending hours in a car with stiff legs and a sore back. You have to empty bags and wash race gear and wetsuits. You might check times and photos and update social media with all the ones where you have your stomach stuck in because tri-suits are not at all flattering…

Then the day after that, you think. What do I do now? You can’t save the world every day, just as you can’t race every day (unless you’re the Iron Cowboy).

And without the adrenalin of a race, and without the goal of an event to train for, it’s easy to fall into a slump. Why run, if you’re not training? Why go out on the bike if not as preparation? Without a goal it becomes harder justify your actions. Swim in the morning and then run home from work? That was normal, one month ago. Now, what the blooming nora were you thinking? Two showers in one day? How did you find the time!?!?!?

So, those first days and weeks after a race are a critical time. It’s easy to forget training. (And, possibly smart to do so as you can’t keep going at same rate after a race without risking injury). It’s easy to eat cake. (It’s always easy to eat cake!). But it’s also easy to try and recreate the race high. It’s why organisers know the best time to sell next year’s race is the day after this year’s race to the people who’ve just woken up with a feeling of invibility like they’ve just saved the world.

Sometimes I think James Bond must be an Ironman triathlete as only a triathlete with the Ironman bug, would think “hey, I’ve saved the world and almost killed myself, but you know what would be great – doing it all over again and again and again!”

I’m sure the next James Bond film will feature him killing twice the number of henchman, bedding four times the number of women, while saying he really, really doesn’t need a wetsuit because swimming to the underground lair in 10 degrees of water wouldn’t be extreme enough if he didn’t do it in skins.

After Challenge Roth, I knew I would feel these thoughts. The need to chase the next adventure. That I’d want to look at the next race and the next hit and not just enjoy the feeling of completing Roth itself. So, I made a promise to myself. I wouldn’t enter or commit myself to anything serious for at least two months after Roth. Only then would I think about whether I would want to train for a long distance event again.

So, amateur athletes of the world, remember this – even James Bond can’t save the world every day!

Outdoor Swim Review: St Mawes (Iain)

Whilst walking through St Mawes, looking for somewhere to get a haircut, I saw a barber shop sign that read “Hair by Rodney. A State Registered hair dresser.”

Do hair dressers need to be registered by the state? The only state register I’m aware of is one from criminals like the sex offenders register. Maybe his hair cutting is criminal and this is a warning not to get a hair cut here.

I decided it was best to avoid Rodney. Instead I went to a barber that said to me “today most of my clients have asked for a fashionable Peaky Blinders cut, its a relief to do a non fashionable cut.”

I think he meant it as a compliment….

REVIEW

Ease of Access: There are two swim areas in St Mawes. Both are small beach areas on the seafront. There is no car parking at either spot but both are only 5 minutes walk from the town car park.

There was a sign up saying any dogs found playing on the beach will be fined £1000. I’m not sure how ad dog will pay the fine. It didn’t seem to stop dogs from playing on the beach.

Water quality: Very clear. I could see fish and the bottom of the sea bed as I swam.

Swim Quality: Excellent – at high tide, the sea was calm and there were views of the pretty town. Water temperature was 17C in September so I was able to swim skins. There was a mooring in place to practice diving.

Other People: There was not a soul swimming whilst I was there. Either I scared people away or southern softies thought the water was too cold!

Would I go back: Yes if I was in St Mawes. No if I had to drive there. Its 10 hours from my house.

Cornwall – part 2 (Iain)

I have a theory that I can tell how posh a place is by counting the number of men I spot wearing red coloured trousers.

Why? Because I have never seen a man wear a pair of red coloured trousers on a housing estate but I have seen them on a country estate.

I saw allot of a red trousered men in Cornwall.

Sidenote: there is a funny website called http://lookatmyfuckingredtrousers.blogspot.com/

Which reminds of a posh man I met at University who claimed he was working class despite growing up in a castle. He claimed it was true because his nanny was working class!

There is a phrase “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” In that man’s case it was literally true but in most cases it implies a homeowner (whether a castle or hovel) should have the right to defend their home from invaders.  Not in an amusing Home Alone style way in which a criminal is hit in the face with an Iron by a small child but in a mad farmer way where a criminal is blasted by a shot gun.

Home Alone

This meant I was slightly afraid of Trail running in Cornwall.

In Scotland I can go anywhere (just about) as the public has a right of access over land and inland water as long as they behave responsibly.

In England no such right exists. The freedom to roam is only as long as the public follow public rights of way.

I saw how protective people are of their “castle” whilst walking along a public path. At one point, the path seemed to lead into the garden of a house. I wasn’t sure about the path so I looked at a map and discovered that the route through the garden wasn’t a public path but a private path. The public path involved skirting round the garden.  

I skirted around the garden. When I got round to the other side I noticed someone else had not checked the route and was now walking across the garden. It did not take long for a man to appear from the house. The man wore red trousers. Which matched the colour of his angry face. He shouted “WHY ARE YOU IN MY GARDEN?”

I don’t think the correct answer was “to admire your roses?”

For the rest of my trip I was very careful to check where I walked and ran.

Running in Cornwall

RIP ZipVit (Andrew)

When out riding, some people have a favourite cake stop or coffee stop or, for the hardcore and borderline alcoholics, a favourite pub stop, but, for me, I have a favourite bin stop.

I don’t like carrying the remains of energy gels around in my back pocket because the pocket just fills with leftover gels until it feels like diving into high sugar swamp every time you reach in for another. Urrghh!

That’s why I have a bin stop. Somewhere I can stop and have a gel and immediately throw it into a bin. My soggy pocket problems is solved!

My favourite bin stop is at Whitelee Windfarm, near Eaglesham. It’s the highest point of one of my usual routes and a good point to stop and have a gel before carrying on. Here it is:

You won’t believe what happened next!

Normally I wouldn’t tell anyone that I had a favourite bin stop for the same reason I wouldn’t tell you my preferred technique to cut my toe nails, how I clean my ears or the satisfaction I might get from a pick of my nose. There’s some things you just keep to yourself – and not even your nearest and dearest know that the real reason you’re smiling is that you managed to extract an entire bogey in one go with just a deft flick of an expertly judged fingernail.

But this photo is special. And tragic. In fact it should be on a clickbait internet link headed “Seconds from disaster! You won’t believe what happened next – number 8 will blow your mind!”. And, when you click on the link, there’ll be a photo of this bin and this energy gel and then a simple explanation that just after I opened this gel – a ZipVit – I got back home, went to the ZipVit website and discovered… tragically…

… they don’t make them anymore!!!!!!!

I’ve been buying Zipvit for 10 years. And I know it’s been 10 years because they sponsored the first Etape Caledonia and I had my first ZipVit at the footstop there. And this year was the tenth anniversary of the Etape. And now, umpteen ZipVits latest, boxes and boxes of the banana flavor (my favourite), it looks like they only make one flavoured gel and they’ve stopped making energy bars all together.

Noooooooo!!!!

But what do I do now? I’ve used the same bars and gels for 10 years. I have one halfway through a bike ride. I have a bar after swimming on a Wednesday morning. If I had any more ZipVit, I’d turn into one. Which would be doubly tragic as I’d propably eat myself because I was so tasty.

Instead, I’ll need to find a new gel that I can eat and eat and eat and know that it won’t be too sweet or too sour or too thin or too thick or to chalky or to smooth. Where do I turn now?

And then I remember, I’ve written about ZipVit before. I know who can help me. I can write to Sam! And if you don’t know who Sam is then she’s definitely a real person and she definitely does exist as I’ve written about her before: Sam The ZipVit Packer.

So, phew, crisis averted. Sam will help!