Lance Armstrong and the Crashing Pumpkins

Lance Armstrong once said: “Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever.” Today was very nearly the end of my ride. As I write this, I’m so grateful to still be in the fight. What happened? Read on.

The day started early, as it always does due to my relative insomnia. Actually Craig was so desperate to talk to his little Joel that he got up at 3am to catch him (in the UK) before he went to school – such is Daddy’s love, all the more because I know Craig really needs his beauty sleep. Even as I dosed and tried not to listen to him, I couldn’t help thinking how moronic we Dads sound when we talk to our kids, putting on a 5-year-old voice and speaking to them slowly in a yodeling tone as if they’re a young exchange student from Korea.

We began with a long drive back to our starting point from Ingram – again, it was a bit of a waste driving to an RV park without a shower or internet access, but we didn’t know until we arrived late last night that that was the case. The morning ride was beautiful. There were ranches along our route with imported exotic animals, including lions, zebras (not that we saw those two species) and plenty of emus and antelopes, which are always a beautiful sight as they leap effortlessly over bushes and rocks.

Interestingly (and I daresay there’s a medical explanation for it), my mucus always liquefies in the early morning and needs to be constantly snotted out. There’s no genteel way of getting rid of it (well, maybe Craig’s devised one, but it’s sure to be impractical) other than to cover one nostril and blow the other one clear, checking that nobody’s following too closely behind. Well, suffice to say, I’ve forgotten that cardinal rule a few times to both Jeff and Craig’s chagrin. Being snotted on has actually been one of the most profound experiences of my life though, so I hope they can view the experience the same way I do – as truly life-changing. Let me explain:

After three years in Burundi, I was told to spend a year back in England to pre-empt burnout. So I did some further training (Anthropology, Development, Cultural Studies, etc) at All Nations in Hertfordshire. During the summer term, there’d been some social function and I was doing the washing up at the end. A certain young lady approached me and offered to help. I made some slightly provocative remark, which she deflected so feistily that I was immediately intrigued. When the washing up was over, I whisked her off to the Jolly Fisherman pub, and we had two hours of incredible conversation. There was an electric connection. I’d never met anyone like her. Was she the one for me? Well, at one stage, I cracked a joke, which she fuly laughed at. But (un)fortunately, her nose must have been blocked because she snotted across the table at me!!! And it was then that I knew that I had found my life-mate. That was the clincher! (For the record, Lizzie insists that it was only ‘vapour’, so that you’re not imagining Ghostbusters-style ectoplasm landing on my cheek. But whatever she maintains, it was wet, it flew across the table at me, and it sealed the deal. I don’t know, maybe if you’re struggling to form lasting relationships, it’s an unorthodox method you might like to try? And lest you think it was a freak one-off event, Lizzie has managed to repeat the aforementioned ‘vapour’ treatment on average about once a year since. Be aware when you next make her laugh!

The miles sped by through beautiful scenery during the morning. In fact it was our easiest day overall. We soon made up the 20miles back to Ingram and cycled past the very site we’d camped on last night. It seemed a safe enough road, but a state police officer pulled us over and told us to be extra careful. There had been two cycling fatalities in the last month alone, which was rather sobering. Clearly the whole community was impacted because when I stopped off to ask at a hotel if I could use their wifi to send yesterday’s blog, the kind clerk likewise immediately commented on it. We’ve felt incredibly safe on the roads thus far, spending very little time on busy sections, but we need to remain vigilant at all times. One girl who set out from Charleston last year was killed by a big truck, and she was far from being the first.

On we journeyed. My mind went back to my first day at university, and the first girl I met on the morning of our first lecture. We were both lost, but quickly established we were looking for the same room. It being Loughborough, England’s sports university, we did the standard conversation on sporting achievements. I told her that I was county-level squash, tennis, cricket, had won the nationals at rackets, blah blah blah, and how about you? She said she was a runner. What level, county? No. regional? No. National? No. Well what then? “I’m world student champion.” She was (and still is) Paula Radcliffe, the current world record holder in the marathon, who we’re hoping will take gold at the London Olympics. Why do I tell you that? Well, I’ve been thinking way too much about Paula Radcliffe these last few weeks, and it’s all because of Jeff. When Paula is running the final few laps and she’s exhausted, her head starts flapping side to side – she’s well known for it, and it may not look pretty, but it’s certainly effective. Jeff cycles the same way. So whenever he’s in front of me, which is several hours each day, I see his head bobbing up and down and side to side in a Southern Indian Stevie Wonder Radcliffesque kind of way. I tried to emulate him but it just didn’t work for me.

We came across a mini-Stonehenge set-up. I haven’t read the guide books so don’t know what the deal was, but it looked almost as impressive as our Stonehenge in the UK, which isn’t very impressive at all. I was dating an American girl a decade ago, and when I picked her up from the airport, I asked her what she wanted to see. She immediately said: “Stonehenge.” I was flabberghasted. That wouldn’t have come in my top million choices. They’re just big dull gray motionless heavy rocks! But I guess it’s the history, the five millennia, the mystique. Suffice to say, in this case, we didn’t stop off to look at those big stones.

At the traffic lights, a man in a Mustang opened his window and asked me: “Are you Lance Armstrong?” I think he was serious, but the light turned green so I showed him I was by overtaking and doing 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds. Well, Lance is a decent enough looker, isn’t he? It’s a first being likened to him. I usually get called Rick Mayall, Billy Idol (maybe when I had a full head of hair), or Paul Bettany. Around the next bend, a charming lady dropped a big F-bomb on us: “Get the **** of the road!” Jeff just smiled and waved benignly – you couldn’t ever really be angry with Jeff, he’s just too nice – and said: “She’s not mad at us, she just needed someone to shout at.” Glad to oblige!

During a loo break, it struck me how synchronized Jeff and I have become. Like ladies living together whose menstrual cycles slowly align, so we need a wazz now at exactly the same time. I can tell within a minute of when he’ll call out for a pee break, and vice versa. Craig, meantime, similar to his output of flatulence (see yesterday), seemingly never goes. It’s a divine mystery. Jeff and I will stop sixteen times a day (twice hourly on the road), and Craig just waits there patiently for us to do our thang. The other day, we were in the mountains, far far from civilization, and we were taking a leak off the road to the side when a man drove past and beeped at us loudly, shaking his fist angrily. What was his problem? I mean, should we have bottled it and disposed of it at the next public lavatories 73miles away, or simply held it in for those several hours? Come on mate, you should try it yourself, give us a break!

Jeff’s bike caused up more problems today, so we had some work to do on it. Meantime I sang them a song on the guitar which I wrote 17 years ago when I split up from a serious girlfriend. I played it to her at the time and we both cried. I’d hardly played it since, but for some reason did today. John guessed that it was a song by the Smashing Pumpkins, which I took as a huge compliment. So just today I’ve been mistaken for Lance Armstrong and the Smashing Pumpkins – that’s got to go down as a good day.

One road on our map was closed to vehicles, but we presumed we could get through – we soon found out the reason. Around the next bend, the river had burst its borders and was cascading over the two lanes. We rang John to find an alternative route for the RV. John’s phone has terrible reception, but we got through that time at least. Meantime Jeff and I were excited at the prospect of wading through the river (you really couldn’t tell how deep it was) carrying our bikes. Craig, though, started breathing heavily. He’s not a good swimmer, and feared being washed away. He needed some coaxing, but eventually agreed after Jeff did a trial run across, shoes and socks taken off and leggings hitched above the knees – it turned out to be not much more than ankle deep, which was a bit of an anticlimax. But our feet got a refreshing wash and are at their most sweet-smelling in weeks. And then as we came up the other bank, an adolescent fruitcake in a beach buggy drove down to a ramp as fast as he could in the opposite field, before taking off, doing a backward somersault thirty feet high, and landing perfectly further down the slope. It was manifestly dangerous, and the dozen or so youngsters watching were whooping with delight and relief. We saw some official drinks sponsorship vehicle so maybe it was being filmed – who knows – but there was no ambulance or any such thing at the ready for what could easily have gone horribly wrong.


(Boys crossing river)


(Simon and Craig in front of the river)

I took my first turn with the cue sheets, and we promptly got lost, almost for the first time. These cue sheets have been crucial to us. Basically every turn of the journey is planned (Turn Right on Main Street for 2.1miles, turn Left into Fifth Avenue for 0.3miles, etc). These are thanks to Joe Turco, who slogged his guts out for many frustrating hours to get them done. I think he decided to put just one mistake on each page to keep us on our toes, and that’s what I’m blaming in this case. It’s always someone else’s fault. No, not this time. I’m just a muppet on directions. So we needed John, but he wasn’t responding to his phone. Pick it up, John, we don’t want your voicemail! When we next saw him, he had five missed calls and somehow hadn’t heard them. So the new advice was to put in on vibrate and leave it in his crotch, that way there was more chance he’d be stimulated to action. From then on, his strike rate at answering the phone improved remarkably!

I haven’t mentioned a key cog in Bike for Burundi wheel, and that is Joe’s wife, Bonnie. She has been my right-hand woman for the last eight months preparing for this adventure. Whilst we’re cycling away every day, she is still beavering away back in Charleston, lining up speaking engagements, RV parks, press interviews, you name it. She’s done a great job and I’m very grateful to her – go Bonnie! She’d have liked to have been with us on the RV, I think, except that she’d have been exposed to a lot of unpleasant sights and smells as men constantly relubricate with chamois cream and other such activities – not a pleasant sight, I assure you.

We were making great progress – which we needed to because of an evening speaking engagement 45minutes away meaning we had to finish in good time – until 340pm. We’d managed to hit 48.5mph down one hill on very juddering roads which made it feel a whole lot faster even. In fact Craig (after his nine punctures in the last three days) actually thought his wheel was coming off and he was about to wipe out. I had just gone down a hill at maybe 35mph, and was coming back up when I changed down a gear. My chain somehow got stuck, jammed the derailleur, and in an instant the bike jackknifed and I went sprawling onto the verge. I immediately thought I must have broken my wrists, because that is a classic injury from such a fall, and I certainly fell hard. But thankfully it was sideways and onto the grassy gravel as opposed to the concrete, so I was absolutely fine. In fact, I thanked God straightaway, because I couldn’t believe how little pain I felt after crashing out at such speed. Some pain kicked in after a few minutes, because I’d actually caught my crown jewels on the break lever as I went over the top, but quite honestly, three kids is definitely enough, I’ve had the snip, and so any further negative impact downstairs is acceptable collateral damage.

This is getting too long. We did 112miles total at just under 16mph average in seven hours. Then we drove to New Braumfels where I gave a talk at Northpoint, through a Burundi connection with Brian and Sally Leifeste. They fed us royally and then packed us off to a lovely Bed & Breakfast. Old Geoff is now back with us, and at 10pm we have just had a steaming Jacuzzi. Geoff’s got a great sense of humour. If you’ve just joined us, he was cycling with us originally but had a heart-attack on day two and was evacuated by helicopter. We’re glad he didn’t die because John needs a hand cleaning the RV and most particularly the toilet which has seen better days. No, seriously, it’s great to have him back. And as we were in the Jacuzzi (naked), he arrived in these very Bridget Jones knickers (don’t be ashamed, Geoffrey), which we eventually coaxed off him, whereupon he set to washing them in the bubbles, saying: “They need a good scrub!” Welcome back Geoff! Tomorrow we’ll get over the half-way mark.

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