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  • Writer's pictureStars and Spokes

The Boxing Day ride, a time to reflect (and probably time to take the tinsel off the bike...!)

Pascal here. COVID or no COVID, the Boxing Day ride is always an opportunity to reflect, after what is inevitably a hectic few days in the run up to Christmas itself. Those days are generally a blur of posting Christmas cards (old school, I know!), stock piling port and negotiating Christmas parties. The latter has clearly been more straightforward this year, with all social gatherings being via Zoom – I am so, so over Zoom.

With Christmas Day over and done with, Boxing Day is the first opportunity to get on the bike and think about something other than festive preparations. I always use it as a time to reflect on recent weeks, and begin to refocus the mind on what lies ahead. This year, my Boxing Day ride took place in Devon, taking in Dartmoor more specifically. Dartmoor is a fantastic place, both Dan and I have undertaken much of our military training here, we know it well – it is definitely not flat! The vast majority of my 2020 riding has been in and around London, which is generally very flat. You can probably guess how this panned out…..To set the scene, the first 15 miles of my Boxing Day ride this year involved climbing up 2000 ft of elevation, into a brisk wind. As a result, for the entire first hour, my mind could think of nothing other than, ‘I really wish I had an electric bike rather than having to pedal up never ending hills; I should buy one. In fact, think how much easier riding across America would be if I had an electric bike! I wouldn’t even have to tell Dan, just arrive in San Diego with said electric bike and zoom up and over the Rockies at a constant 25 mph…’ By the end of that hour, I had decided that I was willing to pay several thousand pounds for such a bike.

Quite some time later, given my inability to ride up hills very quickly, I summitted onto the main plateau of Dartmoor. Whilst the wind continued to do its best to topple me and my bike over, the visibility was epic, I could see for 30 miles in every direction – including beyond Plymouth and Torquay, out into the English Channel. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m sure being able to see for miles somehow cleanses the mind of all the nonsense that can build up within it, it seems to bring a clarity of thought that is far harder to achieve in a busy, urban setting. That might just be me!

Epic views from the Dartmoor plateau, as far as the English Channel.

Given the lack of interweb coverage up on Dartmoor, I had to temporarily (and reluctantly) delay the purchase of my electric bike, and instead get on with some more leg powered push biking. And what a ride it was! Rolling through the stunning Devon countryside, whizzing along country lanes and shouting ‘good morning’ to basically everyone I saw. Fuelled by my strict chocolate santa carb loading diet strategy of recent days, the second half of the ride flew by (in reality, this was likely due to the 20 mph tail wind and downhill aspect!).

The lack of significant pedalling effort required during the second half of the ride allowed my mind to start properly considering what lies ahead for us in the coming weeks. After a low volume week last week (pre-agreed with expedition physical trainer Tim, rather than us just slacking off), the mileage picks up again from here, aiming for a weekly average of 200-250 miles for the foreseeable future. We have also been instructed to complete a longer ride prior to New Years, which for us translates to 150+ miles in one sitting. This has resulted in us both constantly checking the 10 day weather forecast, so that we can pinpoint in advance a day on which it isn’t due to rain for 12 hours solid – that really is to be avoided! Dan does most of his training in Cornwall, which in winter generally means rain and him getting wet. This always lifts my spirits, as by the time these same weather systems reach London (where most of my own riding takes place) they are generally drier – it’s a real win-win situation for me, less so for Dan!

Looking slightly further ahead, we have our first fitness assessment day on 22 Jan, due to take place at the Institute of Naval Medicine (INM), in Portsmouth. Under the watchful eye of the expedition doctor and sports scientists, we will have our current fitness levels assessed, along with fat (uh oh!) and muscle mass measured. These results will then be passed to our expedition physical trainer and dietitian, who will make the necessary adjustments to our training and diet plans respectively, as required. If I was a betting man, I suspect the theme will be, ‘please stop eating chocolate santas, get better at cycling up hills, and do not buy an electric bike’. However, I’m not the qualified professional, so fingers crossed I get the green light for the electric bike – it would instantly improve my hill climbing ability, just saying….

Christmas successfully negotiated, and with a little over 6 months to go before our expedition starts, training really picks up from here on in.

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