On headwinds and in praise of drop handlebars!

A post in a less philosophical vein than some of late.  Yesterday was 61 km and I seemed to have a lot of thinking time, more than I’ve had time to convert to pages or posts but this was one: the wind!

The first 20km were fairly sheltered but then things changed and I found myself dealing with a wind that was rising steadily as the distance ticked on and Garmin seems to be telling me that at the end it was a 27kph wind which feels about right: it was bending branches and sunflower fields.  It was mostly from the SW and so as my route zigzagged mostly south in the way the roads and Google maps dictated, the wind was either in my face, coming across me from the right, or somewhere between.  Relentless headwinds are a bit draining: you don’t have the promise of the downhill pay back that you have when you’re climbing.  However, I felt able to be fairly phlegmatic about it: this is what it is and it’s an privilege to be doing this.  (But I do hope it’s not the same for 90+km I’m currently planning for today!)

It meant I spent a lot of time “in the drops”.  I don’t know how much wind resistance it really cuts when you tuck up tighter with your hands that bit lower but it feels much easier and there’s something quite satisfying about your thighs pretty much touching your abdo if you’re really crouching.

So, I know that some in the touring cycling world don’t like “drops” and sing the praises of “straights”, or favour the more upright butterfly handlebars but I realised that I’d really struggle to buy any bike that didn’t have drops.  Lovely simple design, gives you a huge range of positions you can use which offsets aches and stiffness and oh it felt splendid yesterday to have that hunkered down position available.


Copyright and sharing

This is a bit of a digression: I like the idea that my wandering physical route links with wandering thoughts.  It was triggered by a short Email conversation with Craig Fees who runs the excellent Planned Environment Therapy Trust and the TC-OF (Therapeutic Community Open Forum) Email list, one of a number of Email lists I started many years ago.  That reminded me that I needed to declare the copyright on the site and the licensing but it also linked with some thinking I was doing and conversations with my family.

So, one immediate declaration and then some wandering.  The declaration is that, unless it says to the contrary, everything on this site is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.  That means that you can use anything here, and modify it as you wish, provided that you both provide an attribution showing it came from here AND you share whatever you create with my material under the same terms.  That’s nice and simple but it links with some things that are more complicated.

The complication is about confidentiality and rights over being identified.  I started thinking about this on about day three when I started wondering how much to say about my family and other identifiable people.  The issue is one that’s crucial in psychotherapy, so for the 32 years that I was practising psychotherapy I tried to be meticulous about protecting people’s confidentiality and often their identity and rights over how they were described.  The principles involved intersect rather interestingly (to me at least) with what to do here and “confidentiality” and rights over representations of ourselves are actually often complex and fraught and overly simple solutions often problematical.  These issues overlap into the (largely) non-clinical realm of this blog.

The internet, and particularly the web, has given us fascinating new possibilities but brought challenges about ownership and sharing of materials that even the printing press didn’t.  It’s now so easy to share things that it is really near zero cost for both the person publishing things and the person reading them.  It isn’t quite zero cost and that gives privileges over the web realm to those with more money than others but as things stand for now, it sets the wealth bar for entry pretty low, perhaps the power imbalance in favour of the wealthy is lower than it is any other human realm.

This is great if you want to share things and I have been a great enthusiast for sharing some things I’ve done in the (continuing!) academic/research side of my work life so far.  At first I was quite naïve about that and didn’t understand the legalities and the technicalities.  I was lucky with a paper I did years ago which suggested six short forms of a nice questionnaire (the Body Shape Questionnaire, BSQ).  My luck was that the authors behind that questionnaire were also in favour of making such things as freely available as possible.  That was good as my paper was pretty close to a copyright violation in suggesting adapting a copyright material: their full 34 item questionnaire.  There was a win:win outcome as, since 2005, I have used the strength of the internet and my familiarity with the technology, to provide both their full length questionnaire and the short forms for free download (http://www.psyctc.org/tools/bsq/).  That in turn has supported a few translations of the measures.  I don’t log the downloads but I know that over the last 11 years I’ve answered roughly 1,100 Emails about the BSQ, mostly from students in much poorer countries than the UK, seeking confirmation that they are within their rights to use the measures for project work.

Another example of trying to make things near zero cost to use is my biggest real research achievement: the CORE system (http://www.coresystemtrust.org.uk).  We always made the instruments free to reproduce on paper but, as of the 1st of January 2015, we have moved them into the the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/.

So, unlike the CORE instruments, which are free to use but not to change in any way, you can adapt anything I’m putting up here as much as you like as long as you obey those two legally binding conditions: acknowledgement (simplest is to give the URL of the original) and that you too make things available in the same way.  I love the simple way that Creative Commons licences make it easy to do all this, that they look after the legal side (I can sue you if you don’t obey those two conditions: can’t see me doing it but I’d have the right as the material remains my copyright material) and the simple “share-alike” gives the process an inbuilt encouragement to reuse of the licence and the stance as well as the materials.

I like to think that this is in a spirit of sharing that coexists with an individual experience when one goes along a much used pilgrimage route.  There are some confidentiality challenges that I was going to wrap into this blog post too but it’s already too long and I’ve struggle with it, it’s taken nearly a week to do.  OK.  Just press “publish” Chris!

Why do this? Part I: why the ride?

“Why do this?” is nicely ambiguous as I’m trying to write something both about why I’m doing the cycle ride and also about why I’m creating this mix of site and blog. Without the ride there’d be no account so let’s start there.

Why the ride?

I’ve said a bit about autobiographical, personal historical, roots in my first blog post but that doesn’t really unpick the motivations nor does it address the timing which is that doing it on giving up clinical work, a sort of retirement step.  I always planned that it would happen “when I retire” but retiring turns out to be more complex than I’d thought as I’m only retiring from clinical work and very much continuing with my research/academic work.  I do intend to have a bit more of the week for pleasure when I return.  However, my family would say, with some accuracy, “Oh, so you’ll take a day off perhaps some weekends!”  They’re almost right: actually I intend to have at least one week day every week not for work: exhibitions in London are much less crowded on weekdays!

I’m dodging this explaining.  This has always been about an experience that would have a meaning to it.  I always thought it would have something that, for all that I’ve loved my work, working hadn’t.  I’m agnostic: I have never had a clear conviction of religious belief or of there being “other powers” so this isn’t a traditional pilgrimage in the traditions that are strong particularly in Christianity and Islam.  I’m not an atheist: I don’t feel I know that there is no system of belief that might be “right”, I don’t think I can know there is no “other power” and I have a lot of respect for the way religion and strong spiritual belief work for some people and seem to empower them to do good.  However, I also fear and loathe the way that such belief almost as often seems to inspire people to hatred, contempt and rejection of other people and drives them to do horrific things.

So this isn’t a religious pilgrimage but, whereas I don’t have a religion, I have always felt a deep pleasure in both the natural and the creative worlds: I can get a huge mood lift from seeing a heron overhead perhaps while making my way through London traffic, or from a goldfinch coming to the food I put out in our back garden.  Birds are the domain of the natural world I know best: I do know a bit about non-avian European mammals, I can recognise some UK/European trees but there are many I don’t know and I’m pretty hopeless at smaller plants and the entire fish and insect realms.  I was a keen birdwatcher for a few years in my young adolescence. With two friends I went out in the fields and woods around Leamington Spa with trusty binoculars and inconspicuous, dull coloured clothes.  I was never a twitcher: moving far to see a rare bird seemed wrong to me, and to miss the point.  However, I remember an incredible surge of excitement when we saw a waxwing one very cold day.  There was a surge of pleasure in knowing what this exotic thing was, that it was just sitting on a very ordinary field gate but sort of blessing us with its rarity and the fact that it had probably come a long way from somewhere much colder to give us the minutes we had before it flew off.  However, fairly regular sightings had something almost as special a thrill: kingfishers, those wonderful herons, the three main UK woodpeckers, treecreepers, nuthatches.  Even good minutes watching a robin or a wren could be calm and special.

Working hard pretty much from medical student days to now, and living in London for most of that time, I’ve felt I’ve sacrificed the opportunity for much of that simple pleasure in nature and it feels time to get (back) to that.

So part of the logic of this trip has always been about having the time to really savour it as nature rolls by as the speed it does when you’re 59 and pedalling a moderately laden bike.  So far I’ve seen egrets, a peregrine at Canterbury cathedral, buzzards, one very near flying, one equally near sitting imperiously on a fence post by the road, and throughout there have been swooping swallows galore.  However, this isn’t an ornithology trip, it’s just as good to have felt the ground changing, the configuration of woodland and river with the millennia of erosion and human intervention that have shaped them as they are. And there is a huge satisfaction to be moving through all this under my own steam.  Some of that is simple pleasure to have no window between me and what I’m passing, something is the satisfaction that I can still move a bike a fair way in a day but slowly enough to take things in.

Then there’s spiritual pleasure in human creativity: particular foci are the cathedrals and churches and I’m sure part of that is that they have spiritual meaning for people and have had sometimes for over a thousand years.  However, there’s also pleasure in the engineering skill that created the canals and the simple aesthetic touches in even quite small cottages: often in the gables and the moulding: a sort of statement of being able to do something that is pure decoration but in no way detracts from the functionality, the often obviously efficient logic of the building.

Ah but those cathedrals and churches … hm, I’ll move on to them next in the next instalment of “Why do this?”   To be continued.

Why do I say “she” about google maps? My IT succubus!

This is a theme that has bugged my first week on this adventure.  Before I left I knew I had a lot of map options across the ‘phone, tablet and small laptop that are my IT for the trip and I decided that I wouldn’t carry paper maps.  Now I’m wondering if that was a good decision and it’s got me thinking about the sort of “trial by IT” that seems to plague my modern life.  “She” is just one example but I think she’s a good one.

If I remember rightly a succubus was a devil in female form sent to tempt people away from the straight and narrow, an incubus was the male form.  I think they were sexy.  Well the female voice who reads out the instructions if you use the route planning options in Google maps isn’t sexy but she does repeatedly lead me astray but I find myself almost unable to resist her.  Here’s an example:

2016-08-10 22_20_51-Garmin Connect

I cycle in fine (top right) and am very near the bridge I need to continue my journey but for some reason the voice in my ear tells me to turn left.  Every obedient, I do so and there my problems start.  The road becomes a track and at the black circle I decide that the track has become so bad that I now recognise this as one of those occasions when she is trying to lead me into cycling hell and I backtrack cursing.  When I rejoin some sort of metalled road (where I take that 90° off the left) I scrutinise what I can see on the small ‘phone screen to work out how best to get back on track.  However, in route planning mode Google maps won’t let me zoom out much and to the extent that I can, the detail on the roads/tracks, which are pretty arbitrarily marked in Google maps, becomes useless and they become completely indistinguishable.  As a result I grudgingly accept her next suggestions but they each lead into two complete dead ends (the one was short and isn’t really visible on the screen grab above).  After that I give her up and decide that I will only use metalled roads and head in whatever northerly/westerly options they give me (which turns out to be NNE as you can see!)  I know that means I will hit the Loire and can get reoriented there.  Without knowing it on the day, I find myself pretty much on the road I was on when she led me astray, find the Loire, cross the bridge and from there on things were hunky dory and I could pretty much ignore her and follow the voie verte à vélo, i.e. the jolly green way for bikes.

I haven’t had a single day when I’ve used her when she has not seduced me in this way.  I’ve lost hours in her traps and have lost more hours more because I’ve become very wary of any turning that seems worrying and so I stop to check them on the screen. That blows any rhythm and can mean I’m checking turnings every few hundred metres.  However, checking doesn’t always work, as that example above shows.

Sometimes she is obviously just teasing: on a number of occasions she has said “in 200m turn left” and then “turn left” (presumably about 200m later though she’s not reliable on that) … only for there to be literally no turning, just field or sometimes an impenetrable hedge or wall or even on one occasion a good sized house.  It’s easy to ignore those.  Yesterday she gave the game away coming up to a junction by saying “turn right, 50m then U turn” all in one speech turn.  There was a plausible fork right in terms of metalled road but it felt geographically daft and I could see she too had realised she was talking nonsense and I could also she had been just joking and recommending a 100m as some sort of bit of fun.  I find it hard not to anthropomorphise her in this way but I know she’s just a voice on an algorithm.  Not a very good algorithm as things stand but certainly not someone with a sense of humour.

It’s not completely mad for me to anthropomorphise in this way as I think there really was a woman whose voice was recorded for some of this so she/it feels like a “she” to me.  However, of course there is no emotion: no change in volume, emphasis, no little giggle to indicate that she was just joking.  As the days passed I realised that it’s not all spliced recordings: there’s some voice synthesis going on.  That really didn’t become clear to me until I crossed the channel.  I had assumed that “she”, Jane perhaps, would be replaced by a French woman, Jeanne, but no: the same woman goes on but her French accent is, well, execrable.  There are occasional names that she clearly knows are French not English which get pronounced moderately well so “de Gaulle” does sound pretty much like an English speaker pronouncing “de goal”. (He comes up quite a bit as you’d expect, it’s funny sometimes when Winston Churchill or a Kennedy come up to spice things up and sound pretty natural pronounced in an English accent.)  However, she always pronounces “August” as the English month rather than what I’d expect: something more like “Ogoost” (with a hard “O”).  However, most of her French pronunciation really is dire.  How is it that a few words or syllables have been fixed but 95-99% haven’t?  Sometimes the system breaks down completely and she says “acute e” or “e accent acute” in the middle of something.

Ah well, she and I have an odd relationship and I will do a page of map examples of where she has led me astray at some point.  The worst so far was leaving Giverny where she led me up a track that became something out of “The princess bride”: vile swamps and a wood where I expected to meet “Rodents of Unusual Size”:

2016-08-08 14.48.44

I did manage, just, to make my way alongside that pit on the left but by then I was pushing the bike and there wasn’t much room for me and it … oh, and there were nettles and I’m some were “Nettles of Unusual Size”.  I could hear a road nearby when the track finally pretty much gave up and became a nettle farm and I pushed the bike up a more than 45° slope to try to get out without retracing several km of track … only to find the road completely inaccessible behind a tall fence.  I retraced my steps cursing.

OK.  So this has reminded me of a much loved family film and making me mock my own quest.  Should I be muttering “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!” when things get tough?  See https://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/lists/2012/09/25-great-quotes-from-the-princess-bride.html?p=2) if you know the film, if you don’t, go and watch it but in a happy, silly mood: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093779/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1.

Actually, this has got me wondering about my, perhaps our general, societal, relationship with IT.  Over the last ten years or so what was a very good relationship I had with IT has come to be perpetually dogged by things that just won’t work, things I really need to work and feel I ought to be able to fix but fail to fix.  “She” is a good example. In principle, the combination of GPS and digitised maps and route planning algorithms should be brilliant and I know that huge transport companies rely on them to plan distribution routes for their lorries and vans.  However, sorting that out for pushbikes hasn’t happened yet as far as I can see.  I find myself with a two route planning programmes/apps other than Google maps but one simply doesn’t understand the idea of travel by pushbike and the other gives me no option to change its choice nor will it show me more than the first few hundred metres it’s recommending.  They’re out.  I have ViewRanger which gives me very detailed and brilliant maps of France but only lets me download them and so have them responsive while on the bike through a very clumsy system, oh, and it doesn’t do route planning.

I have found some things specifically for bike riders, for example there are the voies vertes but the website for that seems to seize up trying to resize for ‘phone or tablet for me so what should be perfect isn’t.  Other bike things I’ve tried so far seem to rely on me planning my own route which would be fine if I wanted to spend an hour or more using the various maps for every day.  I think we really have a funny relationship with IT now and I think the succubus analogy isn’t all wrong.  If I had thought my pilgrimage would release me from these temptations and enslavements, I would have been very wrong.  What it is doing is giving me some time to ponder the effects and contrast them with the beautiful simplicity of just spinning the pedals when you do know where you’re going and can read it from roadsigns as you go.




Longest distance so far

Yesterday was a long one.  I set off late having done some more work on this site/blog and didn’t hit the road until 11.15.   My continuing battle with google maps journey planning went wrong immediately: I couldn’t believe that she could get things wrong within one km of leaving the hotel but she did: radically but obviously and then she told me to head right up what was just a track across a field made my tractors to a small farm.  I had checked the route she was offering the night before but obviously not carefully enough.

Anyway, I gave up on her and decided that the main road from Chartres to Orleans would do me.  It was moderately busy but minutes could go by without a lorry whooshing past and it was pretty straight, impossible to lose as a route, and hardly climbed or dipped at all.  I made rapid progress and had a late lunch opposite the cathedral in Orleans.  I’ve seen the cathedral before and it’s sort of collision between gothic and renaissance from the 16th century that really isn’t what I like.  However, the double layer of columns alongside the nave does create an interesting amount of space and change from the usual gothic layout.  I nipped round, took some bad ‘photos including some of the stained glass of the life of Jeanne d’Arc which are so different from the much earlier, glorious, stained glass in Chartres that I had to respect it with a few ‘photos.

Then on, having booked myself into the “Formula 1” bargain basement chain of hotels in Blois.  As I set off I was amused to think that this was rather like saying to myself I’d just head on to Brighton from home in South London: not the way I’d usually think about travel.

I was able to pick up the mostly wonderful voie velo vert (green cycle way) running just south of the Loire and the she voice of google maps was already talking nonsense so it ditched her thinking the green cycle signs were good enough … just as they weren’t and I clearly missed that the one I took wasn’t heading on to Blois but the small one to the right was.  Oh dear.  I realised a few km on and ignominiously had to ask google voice for help (I should just have trusted myself and headed north working from the sun and reckoning I’d have to find the voie vert again before I cycled into the river).  Boy did she take her revenge leading me a wild goose chase that cost me 5km or a bit more but a stupid amount of time.  Finally, I did ditch her, found the voie vert and made it to the hotel by about 21.00.   Just under 150km in all and running out of oomph at the end but it was a big day.

Internet here was initially useless but has improved and this morning I have done some more work on the site/blog including this entry and working out a bit more about how I may get maps up here in future.  However, I need to hit the road so that and getting more ‘photos up will have to come later.



We have a blog! (and click here to read it: yes, this isn’t how it should work!)

Oh boy, this has been a struggle and not helped by the challenges of finding time, energy, working internet etc. that are all necessary in order to get a skeletal site up and running.  But we are up and running at the end of my first rest day: a wonderful day in Chartres.  It is appropriate in a way that it starts here because my jumbled memories of how this idea really took shape are that my “French aunt” (she wasn’t my aunt, more complicated than that, more perhaps on that in a later posting) said “Ah, c’est ton pelerinage!”.  I think it must have been when I was explaining to her that I was about to hitchhike off to Chartres.  I must have been 19 and sort of chaperoning my sister and some of her friends camping near tante Lucienne in Saint Servan in Brittany.  I probably had to look up or ask her what “pelerinage” meant but I was very much amused by the idea of an agnostic doing a pilgrimage and knew she was right.  That there was something oddly spiritual about my objective.  That little pilgrimage went well and I spent a couple of days sleeping rough in a building under construction here and was deeply moved (not for the first time, we’d seen it on an earlier family holiday) by the cathedral.

A year or so later, on a holiday, hitchhiking again but now in the Loire, I started to pick up the references through the scallop shell and the knotted rope belts in architecture in the Loire chateaux and churches, to the pilgrimage to Santiago and it was then or soon after that I decided that when I retired (I was then a preclinical medical student or perhaps just into clinical) that I would cycle from the UK to Compostela.  A year or so later I decided that I would also do a separate cycle ride: from the UK to Rome.  However, I knew that would come after Compostela.  Next year maybe?

OK.  I’m here.  It’s been an emotional day and I’ve been wrestling with technology for a few hours to get this started so I’ll stop here.  Very best to anyone reading this.