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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Jumping on the Mule Train

(Left to Right: Philip Shrimpton, Dave Hill, Kenny Rhame, Patrick Shrimpton)

In 2009 the concept of 'The Mules' emerged during the completion of the Annual MS 150 Houston to Austin Charity cycle event in America.
That year was significantly different.
For the first time ever, day one was cancelled, because of extreme weather conditions.
Despite that four of the regular  MS 150 Riders (above) which included my brother Paddy and I, were shaken but not deterred.

After spending months of trying to get people to sponsor us, we felt that we would be cheating our sponsors if we only completed the shorter second day.
 All of our backgrounds were connected with risk in its differing forms so we felt well placed to properly assess the conditions. 
Our conclusion was that we decided to ride.

It was not totally reckless, we knew that we would be fully supported and able to monitor the weather systems...... closely.

We did  receive some 'well meant' criticism from some quarters - suggesting that we were mad, and these comments were noted.
If it were not for them the Mules may never have evolved.

For out of respect for those views, it was decided that we should not to ride in our team colours, but as a quartet of like minded fellows.
These events were catalogued in an early blog (Renegade Riders) 
As we cycled towards Bellville we discussed many things as we dodged tornado's, including the values that made us get up that morning.
Amongst the subjects was the idea of making our own team, something that reflected our values and made us different.
We all had experiences of local cycling clubs where the emphasis was on personal improvement and competitive development.
Where riding in the 'Red zone' seemed to be semi compulsory and the desire to chat was negated by the need to maximise your oxygen intake, or to put it in Yorkshire Speak....You were blowing out your Arse!!!!!.
We wanted people to ride for fun and kinship to enhance personal development and present competition as being something you did against yourself.
With our objectives sorted the only thing that was missing was a suitable name.

At that time I was a fledgling blogger and the name of my site 'Travels with my Mule' seemed to resonate with us all.
Paddy suggested we call ourselves Travels with my Mule.

2009 seems a long time ago now.
From that quartet in 2009 our ranks have swelled.

Paddy organised Jerseys, Bibs, beers holders (Very Important) a SAG Wagon and was instrumental in bringing people together in the Houston area of Texas to ride as a team, train as a team and drink beer as a team.
More importantly to partake in Charity endurance rides.
They set up a great social scene with organised monthly social gatherings.

Paddy also set up a website which provides links to all that we are 'about', including a direct link to this blogsite.

To a lesser extent I went back to Yorkshire and sold the concept to friends and work colleagues where we too were able to form our own more modest group which has grown in stature and in numbers.
We followed the US template with charity events throughout the whol;e of the UK and frequent social gatherings.
The name Travels with my Mule was soon recognised as a bit of a mouthful so we now just call ourselves 'The Mules' both in the USA and UK.
A name that has been uttered by many MC's now where people no longer say
'Who are they?'

As we have grown the Mules have taken part in more varied local and international rides which have supported local and national charities on both sides of the Atlantic, We have also organised endurance social rides for our members exploring terrains in far flung places.

In order to keep up our momentum and to ensure that others dont miss out and our able to  join our Mule Train we are becoming affiliated to our respective cycling bodies in the United Kingdoam And the USA.

The US Mules have already become part of US Cycling Registering as 'The Mules International Cycling Team'.
They even have their own recognised Cat Riders performing in the Mule Livery.
Paddy naturally was nominated as president but he is ably assisted by Ivonne the team Secretary
(Steve and Ivonne)

Ivonne and her Husband Steve are new members to the team and have ensured that the wave of enthusiasm continues to build.
Such is the progression of the US Mules that they are now able to actively get involved with local charities who want to host ride events to raise money. One such charity being 'Cycle for little Heroes'
In the UK we have just had our first AGM and have appointed officers to form a committee.

Being from 'Up North' in England the we are seen as people who like 'Committie meetings' which has been the 'but' of many comedians over the years - including Monty Python.
I think we are portrayed as being unsophisticated, illiterate yet full of our self importance, with  committee meetings being held with the same reverence as Christmas.

Ours was very amusing and Full of Christmas Spirit......'Famous Grouse', 'Chevas Regal' and 'Highland Park' to be precise.
We have now formed 'The Mules Cycling Club' with myself as Secretary, Duncan Collins as Chairman and Karen Gooding as Treasurer.
The rest of the hard core riders are now committee members.
Tomorrow we will look to be registered with British Cycling and actively boost our own Membership.

Whether Anglo or US Mule our goals are the same.
To promote cycling to all members. To do so in such a way that is inclusive, supportive and encourages participants to enjoy the sport and achieve their own personal goals. As well as promoting a healthier greener lifestyle we are also dedicated to raising funds for various charities through the various events we undertake.
If you want to know more about joining either check out the website.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

War on Britains Roads

In the light of recent high profile cycle/car exchanges with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish both coming into contact with motorised vehicles, the lovely BBC decided to highlight this issue in a documentary inappropriately titled 'War on Britains Roads'.

As a cyclist comuter and car driver I found it great entertainment, when really I should have seen it as thought provoking.
'BBC' - Thank you for entertaining me, whilist at the same time alienating me from my other road users.

British Cycling has described the BBC’s ‘War on Britain’s Roads’ programme, which aired on BBC1 on Wednesday evening, as a ‘missed opportunity’ to paint an accurate picture of what cycling is like on Britain’s roads; to publicise the work that is being done by government, cycling organisations and other concerned parties to improve conditions; and to take a look at European examples of how our roads could be.

The documentary told the story of an alleged ‘war’ between cyclists and motorists, through the lens of a number of cyclists using helmet-mounted cameras; interviews with cab drivers and lorry drivers and through a moving interview with Cynthia Barlow, Chair of Roadpeace, whose daughter Alex Jane McVitty was killed by a left turning cement lorry whilst cycling to work in London in June 2000.
British Cycling believes that the documentary failed to give a balanced picture of cycling on UK roads and distorted the relationship between cyclists and motorists, through its almost total concentration on accidents, near misses, violence and conflict between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists.
“the overall tone and story of the programme is an inaccurate portrayal of how people cycle and drive on the roads. The majority of people who cycle or drive do so in a safe and careful manner."

Ruth Jackson, British Cycling Campaigns Manager said: “There were some good aspects to the programme, Cynthia Barlow’s story in particular was very moving and she made some excellent points on how cycle safety can and has been improved.
But the overall tone and story of the programme is an inaccurate portrayal of how people cycle and drive on the roads. The majority of people who cycle or drive do so in a safe and careful manner.”

Prior to the programme airing Chris Boardman joined many voices from the cycling world in criticising the programme’s sensationalist angle, Tweeting “Here's an idea, I'd like to make a program on what cycling CAN be in this country, any takers...?” on 4 December.

Jackson continued: “This was a missed opportunity and we join Chris Boardman in asking for a programme on what cycling can offer the country,” alluding to the examples of major European cycling centres such as Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Utrecht, with infrastructure and legislation which provides the ideal opportunity for cycling to flourish.

The programme portrayed cycling as a dangerous, stressful activity, concentrating solely on collisions, near misses and aggressive behaviour caught on camera and posted on YouTube. Jackson, however, point out that “statistically, cycling is much safer today than it was 20 years ago, and it is as safe as walking. There are so many benefits to cycling including improved health, improved environment, less congestion and great value for money.”

The programme concluded by attempting make its protagonists see things from each other’s perspective. However in its summing up, it failed to address the work of government, cycling organisations and other interested parties in improving conditions for cyclists and other vulnerable road users.

Jackson concluded: “What would make the biggest difference for cycling, which the programme didn’t address, is strong leadership from government including putting cycling at the heart of policy.”

For me the highlight of the programme was Lewis the cycling Vigilante who was out there head camed upwatching the interaction
Whether it be a cyclist or motorist behaving like a prat he filmed you and told you about it.
Mostly in such an un offensive way that even the most ardent firebrand might listen.
His work can be seen on Youtube 'Tradffic Droid 360 News'
Maybe he should have produced the documentary

On the subject of Road Safety there is a new device on the block and I kinda like it
Its called Blaze which sounds a bit like some comic book hero.
If it can offer the same sort of protection.... I dont care what they cakk it.

The BLAZE Bike Light is a completely new innovation for urban cyclists. It’s a damn good bike light, but it also tackles one of the biggest causes of cycling fatalities - being caught in the blind spot and vehicles turning across an unseen bike. 
Statistics confirm that 79% of cyclists are hit when they’re travelling straight ahead and a vehicle maneuvers into them, largely due to their small footprint and position on the road. BLAZE tackles this.

BLAZE is a front light with super-bright LEDs, but it also projects the symbol of a bike down onto the road ahead of the cyclist. It’s adjustable, but ideally about 5m in front. It alerts road users ahead of the cyclist of their presence, helping to prevent them turning across their path (especially the big ones like buses and trucks!). Making the cyclist more visible and increasing their footprint on the road.

 Another common accident sees drivers pulling out of a side junction into the path of a cyclist, the bike can be right up close but overlooked due to its position; being tucked in closer to the curb.  BLAZE's flashing symbol ahead of the bike warns drivers (in time) that there's a cyclist approaching, and stops them pulling out.  The same applies to pedestrians, people often don't hear a cyclist coming and step out in front of the bike, warn them you're coming through!

Check Blaze Out

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Waves to Wine - The Grapes of Wrath

In John Steinbecks heralded Novel 'The grapes of Wrath' he traces the fortune of the Joad family.
They travel  from Oklahoma to California leaving behind them their arid flat lands which have turned into a dust bowl.
There journey takes them in search of 'better' land on which to till and toil, and ply their trade.

Like most of Stienbecks work, the richness of this novel is as much  to do with the characters as it has to do with the story. He not only takes the reader on a physical journey across the United States but traces out the respective internal journeys of his subjects.
He lets us feel their pain, their anguish and sometimes their desperation.
Having spent much of my life travelling, both geographically and emotionally, I like Steinbecks literary inspiration.

For me any journey of consequence, is an adventure.
The more 'bolt ons' the bigger the adventure.
Often the experience can become ingrained inside you and deliver up long lasting multiple emotions.
Mostly positive, but other times, as in the case of the Joad Family things don't quite live up to their expectations.
In September there was mini migration of Mules following a similar ambition.
For us it was to take part in a two day charity ride called 'Waves to Wine'.
No ordinary journey - but from San Fransisco way up into the wine region over some big lumps on the way !!!!!!

The Mules came from afar.
Some from the arid flat lands of Houston, but others from further a field, China, Boston, and for myself Beverley in East Yorkshire.
Like the Joads we set out to California to find something different, something life changing, something spectacular.
In the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck introduces his own Mule of sorts in his character- Muley Graves.
Muley is stuborn, he sees the attraction of moving, but fears the unknown and ultimately remains in Oklahoma.
How many times in your life do you say 'I wish I didn't go?
How many times do you say 'Awwwwwwww I wish that I had gone ?'

Its curious, as I get older, experience would traditionally dictate that I take less risks.
I'd be expected to look for my pipe and slippers, before my cleated shoes and helmet.
But putting tradition aside 'Experience' can also be liberating.
It teaches you that you must grasp things sometimes, or the chance will be gone for ever.

Like San Fransisco, I prefer my life with peaks and troughs - rather than stagnating in the flat lands

And so for the trip.......
As the plane swooped down over the surrounding mountains and made its final approach I could see the land on one side and the sea the other.
Fish nets and Fruit Trees,
Trawlers and Telecom Industries,
Wine and Waves.
Good name choice for the ride I chuckled to myself

Walking the streets of San Fransisco was certainly different from Houston.
For a start - there were pavements that you could walk on.
Secondly, you did not feel like you should be carrying a tin full of coins and carrying a plaque.
I'm sure you would have seen it - drawing attention to the fact that your dog was ill and that you had not eaten for a week.
Lastly when you walk in SF you are accompanied by others, hundreds of them - a living rainbow of diversity.
Cosmopolitan with a big Capital C.
With limited time to fully explore I found my 2nd visit ending like my first.
With a mental note to myself - demanding a future visit.

Us  Mules  turned our wheels at 7am on a Saturday Morning in late September.
We left San Fransisco along the Coast towards the 'GGB' as we affectionately called it.
By rights its burnt ochre structure should have been shrouded in fog or low cloud, but sensing our arrival it decided to show off.

The wind was turned off, the morning light intensified, and the clouds were chased off towards the horizon.
The Golden Gate was golden alright.
In its true majesty, It strutted across the watery void like an arrogant king.
As I crossed the divide I enveloped it and tried to memorise every second..
I knew what I was experiencing was a big tick, very close to the top of my bucket list.

After crossing the bridge we dropped down into Sausalito hugging the shoreline up Richardson Bay.
The water was so close you could smell the seaweed.
By this time the Morning coolness had departed and as the sun warmed our shoulders.
The calm waters provided an alluring aquatic invitation.
Thankfully I was strong willed, so my wheels remained dry. 

We followed Highway 1 north of Sausalito before turning north, towards Stinson Beach.
Not wanting to delude myself, I knew there was some real cycling to do before we might get sand in our shoes.
Ahead of us was 2,571 feet of rock in the form of - Mount Tamalpais
File:SE view of Summit of Mount Tamalpais near Mill Valley, California .JPG
The only way was up, made possible by a steady succession of switchbacks.
Prior to the ride we had all promised to stick together as much as we could, but accepted that when it came to the climbs we all had to go at our own pace.
After watching Charles move steadily away from me and Lee come alongside, I remained focused and tried to keep a comfortable rhythm whilst being as relaxed as I could.
On the switch backs I was forced out of my  saddle much to Paddys annoyance by neglecting my domestique duties.
File:Mt. Tam coastline.jpg
Even though it was tough - I loved the climbing, the scenery was  breath taking.
With constant turns and switchbacks there seemed to be a visual gift behind every corner.

Although some of my fellow Mules (The antipodeans)  were great climbers this was not really their territory, they were more used to the Texas flat lands.
Going up was great but coming down was very Technical.
It was like flirting with the devils daughter, exciting but F**king dangerous, and I flirted like mad.
I am sure my fellow riders 35 mph descent was thrilling and very exhilarating.

My 48 mph roller coaster ride to Stinson beach was just plain bonkers.
It was also by far the greatest cycling experience of my life.
Yes even better than my chance encounter with meeting Bradley Wiggins.

The rest of the day was tough. It got hotter and hotter and as we moved inland the lush green turned to  a scorched arid terrain. The climbs came thick and fast and we reassembled to look after one another.
Charles asked Paddy sympathetically  'How you doing mate did you go into the red Zone.
Paddy replied solemnly. 'Charlie..........I have never left the red zone.'
By own support for Sam also back-fired.
As we climbed the wall in the Midday sun Sam very flatteringly used me as a pace maker.
At one point she started to slip back so realising I was close to the top, encouragement was the obvious course of action.
Come on Sam I cried....nearly at the top.
Moments later I reached the visual crest only to see the road rise up again even steeper.
The smile on her face lasted only a few seconds, as I finished my first sentence.
Sam........Its not the top.
As we moved closer to the finish the thought of beer came to mind.....Cold Beer.
Not far away.
In such a momentary lapse of concentration I failed to see what could only be described as a small chasm on the road in front of me.
My last minute bunny hop only made things worse as my back wheel landed in the hole.
It was my first puncture for the year but I was in good company.
The hazard took a number of scalps as a samll posse assembled around, rider after rider cursing the highway agency.
It did not stop there after we had got going we then had puncture after puncture.
I felt guilty. Obviously I was jinxed by my earlier downhill dalliances with the devil and brought a curse upon the Mules.

Eventually we made it 104 miles of love and hate, pain and pleasure........Waves and maybe a few drops of wine.
On the journey I made some great new friends, not only my fellow riders of Charlie, Lee, Sam, John, and Dave but also BJ and Sonni who without there help in transporting our gear the trip would not have happened.
They also did 'Intel' checks on the beer and Vineyards.
Now thats what I call support.

Sonni from Aus is also a blogist who writes about Houston and what attractions you can find on and off the beaten track. Its called Finding Houston
When I was not drinking or cycling Sonni and I bored everyone else talking about writing.
She also tried to make sure I had a hangover every morning.
Thank you Girls

Friday, August 24, 2012

Lancing the Boil

As a parent you sometimes have difficult decisions to make in respect of your children.
One of these concerns the myth of  'Father Christmas' or 'Santa Claus' as he is known in the United States.
For the early years of our children's lives we lie to them, telling them that a big fat man, dressed in red, is going to arrive during the hours of darkness and leave them some presents.
We often reinforce this by advising them to leave out milk for the reindeer and cookies for our rotund invention.
As they gleefully open their presents the next day we whisper 'Did you hear the reindeer bells in the night?'

The joy in their faces is priceless.
Sadly as children get older we know that a time will come when they will find out the truth.
A dilemma evolves.
Do you tell them yourself knowing that you can explain everything? or do you let them work it out themselves to prolong the magical moments that come with this falsehood?

Either way, when they do find out they will realise that you have lied to them.
The age of innocence is over
From thereon in, Christmas changes and is never the same again

For Years Lance Armstrong was my Santa Claus.
He provided me with regular gifts of inspiration - not only in December but throughout the year.
The inspiration never came from his winning the Tour de France seven times, but from his courage in fighting and beating Cancer.
From the inspiration and strength he has provided to cancer sufferers for over a generation.
And yeah drugs or no drugs he was a fantastic cyclist and a consummate athlete.

I had already worked out sometime ago that maybe he didn't drive a sleigh, but it made his gifts no less valuable.

The USADA has now formally told the world that Lance Armstrong is a cheat.
That he is no longer my Santa Claus.
I am not happy

Maybe they are right, but what have they actually achieved?
Where does that leave them now?
Where does that leave the principals of Justice?
Where does that leave cycling ?

It is commonly known that for over the last decade professional cycling has been plagued with the misuse of performance handling drugs.
During that period it is impossible to say who won clean and who won dirty.
Some cyclists were caught, and we  know with total certainty that some were not.
We  knew all these things way before the USADA Investigation.

During that time Lance was suspected of doping he was singled out for testing time and time again.
Each time he passed.
He often quotes that he had never failed a drugs test and I am certain that what he said was factually correct.
Does not mean he didn't take drugs? No
It means what he says 'He never failed a drugs test.
It could also mean had he was able to employ the best chemist, and doctors to mask the tests.

I don't really want to get into the debate about whether he did or didn't, in an environment where there was no even playing field.
I question  the relevance today and the proportionality of the actions taken by the USADA.

Armstrong retired in 2005!!!

Since that time cycling has totally cleaned up its act.
It is now a booming sport both with viewing and participation.

If the USADA wanted to be fair whilst conducting  historical investigations they should investigate all US cyclists or none at all.
They state they have some key witnesses who were willing to testify against Lance but wished to keep them anonymous for fear of intimidation by Armstrong. Do they think we are that stupid!!!!!

It does not take a genius to work out who the witnesses are and I am sure Lance sees, or speaks to them regularly.
What are the USADA doing about their possible involvement?

Lets think this one through...............(hypothetically of course)

Maybe you had been involved in taking performance enhancing drugs in the past and had ridden for a prominent team.
Maybe you  had not yet retired.
Your reputation is still intact and you are earning a good living.
In the past you had seen other cyclists, often friends whose lives had been reduced to tatters through doping exposure, they had become humiliated and some turned into national figures of hate.

Along come the USADA who just might have some evidence that could cause you a few problems.
It may not convict you but could certainly be that sticky sort of mud.
Instead of going after you they induce you.
They say if you testify against your friend they wont go after you.
You are then scared, cornered and trapped.

Maybe they also tell you that they have seen your old mate  who has already agreed to Testify.
You could end up feeling that you have no choice.
Times that scenario by 12 and the pressure is really on Lance.

What hypocrisy
The USADA favours some, but not others, targets some not others.
Offers inducements - Aren't they a body that are meant to deter cheats?

What about the cycling and UCI?

If Lance is stripped of the Tour de France Titles who do they go to?
With most of the prominent riders of that era already exposed who can be sure that the title does not go from one suspected doper to another.
If awarded the title, should any new recipient undergo the same scrutiny as Lance?
If not, why not?

The USADA may have thought themselves as being responsible by telling the world that Santa Claus no longer exists.....but maybe some of us didn't want to know

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ride with Brad

Way before Bradley Wiggins was given his Yellow Jersey to keep, and received yet another golden gong  our meeting was already scheduled.
The 19th of August 2012.
Yes - before the Tour de France and Olympics Bradley had set up the Bradley Wiggins Foundation

A charity with clear aims and objectives
To promote participation in sport and encourage people to exercise on a regular basis

To support keen and talented athletes from all sports who have the potential of taking their talent to the next level
To provide equipment or facilities to allow participation in sport as an individual, through clubs, local communities or schools

To launch the foundation he organised a sportive to take place in the local area where he trained.
Judging by his accent, and believing he was a London Boy, I rubbed my hands together thinking the only hill that might trouble me would be at  Highgate.
Unfortunately Bradley now lives 'Up North'  and trains on the Pennines around the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. The location for the ride.
File:Pendle Hill above mist 235-0004.jpg

Not appreciating any future pain from the comfort of my desk -I entered the event , coaxing some of my fellow Anglo Mules to join me.

Later when I saw that some of the climbs had 'names' - I realised that they must be significant.
Hills or mountains don't normally have names unless they have some sort of personality.

The Iconic 'Nick of Pendle' and 'Trough of Bowland' both had plenty, if they were human they would be absoloute rotters.
Both were featured in my book '100 greatest cycling climbs' by Simon Warren.

On arriving at Barnoldswick I soon realised that this was no ordinary Sportive.
There was a real buzz of excitement within what I can only describe as a cycling village.
As we were corralled into starting pens our turn eventually came which saw us take our place at the front of the cordoning ribbon.

The MC who was entertaining the crowing crowd and linking in to the local radio station spotted our equine shirts. Within seconds a microphone was pressed in front of me asking me to talk about 'The Mules'.
My mind was on forthcoming gradients, not witty remarks, so my response was tepid.
It wouldnt be the only time that my tongue would abandon me that day.

Thankfully I was saved by the bell and we were off
A quartet of pink and black in perfect Symmetry.
Wherever there were houses there were people.....hundreds of them with placards and Union jacks.
The love for Bradley Wiggins overflowed so much, that even us mere mortals were able to lap some of it up.

It provided such a lift, that it was like a verbal  anesthetic. It numbed the pain of constantly pushing into the red zone.
The first 15 miles were similar to the wolds with  rolling hills.
Fuelled my adrenaline we were averaging just short of 18 mph.
This was abruptly reduced  by a flock of sheep that were being moved out to pasture.
What a great idea........I nearly followed.!

What did follow was Waddington Fell.
As we moved onto the bigger climbs the roads were chalked and dozens of spectators lined the road to bring a welcome cheer upon the barren moors.
On reaching Sabden I could see the road wind out in front of me far, far into the distance.
The vista was not horizontal but vertical.
As climbs go this was by no means the toughest but it was certainly the most beautiful and awe inspiring that I have ever climbed. (The pictures are not from the day but feature various stages of the climb)

The closer I got to the top the bigger the crowds got, and the louder the applause became .
Dozens of people were forced to walk as the increased gradient opened up the lactic acid valves on lower limbs.
I knew that my feet would remain in my cleats.
Each cheer I harnessed into another turn of the crank and another few meters closer to the summit.  

After the summit - came the descent where Mark registered 48 mph - MAD F***ER!!!!

We then moved into an area that was once described as a wild and lawless region: an area "fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity. Interesting.
 It was an area which was the centre of the Pendle witch trials in 1612, a date which is recorded on its imposing landscape.

As the event drew to an end I knew that I was nearly empty and I was starting to struggle.
The rain came making the roads slippy and the narrow ascents became more taxing.
On one such ascent I heard a voice next to me. 'Keep going, your doing really well, there is not far to go now' glancing over - It was him.
The Tour de France winner, and Multiple gold medal  Olympian. Bradley Wiggins
I had rehearsed this moment in my head for weeks, like an outside Oscar nominee.
I would talk about the Mules, ask about the Tour.etc etc
Instead all I could offer was a gormless starstruck smile and a shriek 'Bradley'
He did smile back before smoothly accelerating away from me.