Activated Charcoal, Curling and Valentines

ACTIVATED CHARCOAL, discuss! I’ve seen it advertised as a miracle whitening powder for teeth; and as a purifying face mask/pore cleanser – but imagine my surprise when the cocktail I ordered arrived with an activated charcoal ice cube in it!

A massive black ice cube!

I felt cosmopolitan and sophisticated for all of about 5 minutes until my lovely gin and lemon infused drink turned into a gritty, sludgy, inky mess – with a smile to match – beautiful!

We’re in Washington for a few days you see. Mostly to do a Parkrun (what else?), but also to take in some of the culture and history.

The drink shenanigans didn’t stop with my black swamp cocktail though – Dave had his Guinness served in a jam jar and he wasn’t very amused!

We’ve never been to Washington before, but as a city it certainly doesn’t disappoint. As the taxi driver from the airport said – it’s like a little New York – and we’ve been to New York many times – so it did feel familiar. Apart from the charcoal and the jam jars!! Oh my – and the buffalo wings!

We love grabbing a drink at a bar, ordering wings and watching sport (in this case the Winter Olympics*) when in New York, so we followed suit here in Washington – although we do think someone was having a laugh with the chilli – the wings were soooo hot. Check out the size of our lips!!!

Washington itself has so much to offer. The White House, Capitol Hill, National Mall, Arlington Cemetery, National Zoo, Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Post Office Tower, Space and Aviation Museum, Roosevelt Island- are some of the places we’ve visited, but there is so much more! We’ve walked absolutely miles; baked in beautiful summer-like sunshine; shivered in minus temperatures – and as I write the snow has started! AND – it is all free! We haven’t spent a penny. Every single attraction is free – and at this time of the year Washington is relatively quiet as well.

Have you seen ‘House of Cards’? We loved it – well not so much now that Spacey has been outed – but the opening credits always made me laugh with all the different vistas of the Capitol Building. It’s a private joke between Dave and I that I point at it every time it’s on the screen. Imagine my excitement being able to do it for real!! You can even see it from our hotel room – if you stick your head out of the window at an angle!

Valentines Cards? It was Valentine’s Day when we flew out and there was a really awkward moment in the taxi on the way to the airport when I realised I hadn’t got Dave a card.

I pondered why I hadn’t got him one. I’m sure I’ve got him one every year previously since we’ve met, so why didn’t I get him one? Had advertising let me down? Did I forget? Did I think about it and decide ‘no’? Did I get him one last year? He hadn’t given me one so far either, so I thought it was safe to fess up!

To my utter relief, he hadn’t even thought about the fact that he hadn’t got me one either. We are so in tune!!! Haha!!

Dave’s favourite film is Forrest Gump and I’m his Jenny – so we had a go at reenacting this scene at the Lincoln Memorial (although I wasn’t brave enough to run across the water – and there were signs forbidding you – and there was no need as no crowds).

So, Saturday morning saw the main event – PARKRUN!! Dave was a bit worried it might be cancelled because of the cold weather and threat of ice, so was busily plotting our route to the next nearest one (there are three around Washington). We’d already decided that we’d walk the what turned out to be 6 miles to the start line. In hindsight this was really, really silly because the run was on an island and it took us a lot longer to navigate the bridge than we thought- plus I needed a wee – standard – but particularly after an hour and a half yomp.

We arrived at the start line and I was in ‘wee agony’ and Dave having easily popped into the bushes himself was trying to point out convenient places for me to do the same. All he managed to do was make me crosser and more resentful of the male ease when it comes to wees!!

Luckily there was a ‘temporary’ toilet 1/2 mile from the start line, but the run director “couldn’t guarantee what state it would be in” – but I didn’t care. He shouted after us “we’ll wait for you before we start”.

Wee done my mood lifted. Such a friendly parkrun. Approximately 50 runners and the run director himself was originally from Banbury. He’s finding it difficult to get Parkrun to take off- which is bizarre given that Washington is full of runners.

The run itself was pretty and along a boardwalk and up and down through the woods. I came first in my age category (I was also the only runner in my age category – but still first, so Pah!!)

Only joking about the Valentine cards!!!

*Curling – we think we’ve worked out the rules now – but what if there is a draw???

70th Birthday Fun and Frolics!

YOU THINK YOU KNOW SOMEONE! We’ve been married ten years this year and together for fifteen – so imagine the shock when following a conversation about ejector seats (the eldest may be just about to start his post-uni engineering career developing them) and whether what happened to Goose in Top Gun could have happened in real life, when Dave pipes up with “Top Gun – never seen it.”

“Never seen Top Gun?” I replied.

I’m not often shocked, but this? I kept staring at him in disbelief. I’d be really interested to know if there is anyone else out there who hasn’t seen it. Crazy! Guess what’s on the viewing agenda this week!

So, back to parkrun and our mission to complete all 44 Greater London parkruns before Dave turns 40 – we’ve had a bit of a psychological set-back. As we were cross-referencing our pin map against the parkrun event page, we realised we’d left about ten parkruns off. (Dave was relying on another runner’s website for the magical number of 44 – clearly a few years out of date – don’t trust the internet peeps!) We think there are about 54-55 runs in there now, but we can’t be sure as it’s too difficult to count. Either way it’s going to be tight to get them all done by the end of November when Dave hits the big 4-0!

As mentioned last week, we’re temporarily deviating from the core mission to take in a couple of parkruns beyond the M25! So to mark the occasion of my mum’s 70th birthday – HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUMMY- we took a trip up to Ipswich (and of course planned a nearby parkrun).

Best laid plans though are often scuppered at the last minute. Mum lives close to Christchurch Park in Ipswich, which doesn’t have its own parkrun, but has been babysitting Chantry parkrun whilst it recovers from water logging!

At 8.40am we dutifully set off on the ten minute walk to the start line only to be stopped in our tracks by a panicked yelp from Dave. It had been CANCELLED!

Now for 99% of people this would be a guilt free excuse to get back in the warm (it was -2 degrees), have a cup of tea and smugly relax knowing you had fully intended to run, but quite frankly this was out of your control.

Not Dave!

Missing a parkrun is a serious crime – up there with forgetting your wedding anniversary for example. It simply wasn’t ‘not’ happening.

“Everyone in the car – we can make Kesgrave! Go, go, go! Callum – scrape the ice, I’ll navigate, John drive, Alison just shut-up!”

Charming!

Kesgrave is another Ipswich parkrun about 4 miles away. Mum and her partner John were already coming along to support us and the eldest (Callum) was also with us. So we all piled in the car and made the start line just as the run director had finished his spiel!

The run itself was on grass, then tractor track (well we were in Suffffooorrrrkk), and finished off with a sneaky run through woodland – sneaky because it looked as though you were heading for the finish funnel, but were then directed towards the woods.

All in all – very enjoyable.

I feel the need, the need for speed and my ego is writing checks my body can’t cash.

…..and in a few more days Dave will know what all that means!!

Mile End Parkrun 3.2.18

A HUSBAND is probably the biggest kid a wife will ever have! Dave was living proof of that today when we arrived at Mile End Park half an hour before parkrun was due to start!

“Ooooo look – a stunt track!”

We don’t have a car anymore – sold it last year and have never looked back. We cycle everywhere – literally. My office at work contains a full wardrobe of shoes and dresses ready to transform me into a respectable looking headteacher after my all-weather commute every single morning. It’s liberating. Before we sold the car there was always that temptation to jump in it on the shortest of journeys when laziness struck, but in the 9 months without I can count on one hand the number of times we have had to borrow/hire a car.

So our parkrun tourism hobby means that we use public transport/bikes/combinations of both to get to our chosen start line destination each Saturday morning. This morning was the train/bike combo with a journey to Waterloo courtesy of Southwest trains followed by a 6 mile cycle across London to Mile End.

Dave shot off in the direction of the playground and I followed torn between my desire to get a good photo and a sinking fear that he was going to come a cropper!

He soon tired after several loops and the realisation that he wasn’t impressing anyone/he’s not 14 (and swinging your knee out as you swoop by with your coat hanging on by its hood on your head is a dodgy look for a 39 year old male in a kids’ playground).

The run route was actually quite nice – an out and back twice taking in a canal path and views of Canary Wharf in the background.

Getting back home and changing the pin on the map from red to blue feels like such an achievement.

I’m so proud of what we’re doing and to do it together is precious. The highlight of my week.

So for the next two weeks we’re going outside of the M25 for our parkruns! One up in Suffolk and one across the ocean! Got to love half term!!

Oh – and clearly having a big cumbersome basket bike and irrational fear of injury and imminent danger meant that my lap of the stunt track was an entirely different affair!

Crystal Palace Parkrun – 27.1.18

Done! We were scuppered last week by national rail, but this week we made it and have ticked another parkrun off our list.

I feel that it is only right to try and be honest about all this parkrun tourist business – it’s actually quite sadistic dragging yourself out of bed before 7am on a Saturday; cycling to the train station and then playing the game of which carriage the bikes will fit in, before cycling to, oh I don’t know, THE HIGHEST POINT IN LONDON!!

It’s always worth it!

And there is something magical about being up and about before sunrise. Before cars and buses and people take over. It’s so quiet.

Back to the negatives though – another unglamorous side of parkrun tourism is that due to the inevitable pre-run travel, you generally get a ‘call of nature’ just as you arrive at the start line. Today was no exception for either of us – twice for Dave! Luckily, Crystal Palace Park has toilets right by the start. Often there are no toilets/time which makes for an uncomfortable run for me and a ‘diversion’ (in to bushes) for Dave!

Crystal Palace Park itself is beautiful! I’ve learnt so much about ‘The Crystal Palace’ and the run itself took you around where it would have stood before it burnt down.

Dave has taken a bit of an aversion to having his photo taken, but he did manage to get this one of me as I finished!

So – there are 44 parkruns within the M25. Dave has completed about 20 already and I’m trying to catch him up! Dave will turn 40 at the end of this year and he wants to do them all before then. To track our efforts we’re sticking pins in a map.

Red = still to do.

Green = Dave completed, but not Al.

Blue = both completed.

We want to turn all pins blue by the time Dave is 40!

Next week – South Norwood!

Parkrun Tourism – it’s a thing!

Since LeJog Dave and I have been taking things nice and easy! NOT! In fact, each week we have been steadily ticking off different parkruns each Saturday.

Parkrun is massive! Global! If you haven’t heard of it then everything you need to know is here, but in a nutshell it is a free, timed 5km community run in practically every location in the UK at 9.00am every Saturday.

We’ve always been regular runners at our local parkrun – Crane Park – both having clocked up well over a 100 runs over the years – but about a year ago Dave became fixated with Parkrun Tourism. I would go as far to say that it has become an addiction, with all weekend activities having to be planned around a parkrun. And, as I mentioned earlier, it’s global! So all foreign trips are also planned around parkrun availability.

We’ve run in some beautiful locations – Guernsey, Jersey, Sicily – and marvelled at the fabulous community spirit that exists, well, everywhere! Parkrun relies on volunteers to make it happen – so we also both try to do our bit there as well.

So, back to the blog! I thought I’d record our tourism here from now on – not least for the entertainment factor that Dave provides – but as a diary for us to remember our achievements.

Today we were meant to do Crystal Palace Parkrun – but the trains had other ideas – and with no time to work out an alternative transport method we settled for a more local parkrun in Old Deer Park (Richmond). Very wet, very muddy, but wonderful for me as a little boy from my school was there with his mum. He’d just been appointed ‘Sports Leader’ yesterday at school and was clearly taking his responsibilities very seriously.

As we cycled back home in the pouring rain, quite cold and soggy I felt incredibly happy. I’ve made a pact with myself to enjoy every moment of every day as these will soon become memories as well.

Day 16 Helmsdale to John O’Groats (85 km Falls = 0 Arguments = 0 MASSIVE CHEESY GRINS = 2)

We’re done! Here! Mission complete!

I can’t really put in to words how I feel right now, but I know its good.  

So our last post comprises of a few lists!

List 1 – Things that have surprised us!

  1. Alison hasn’t fallen off – not once!
  2. No punctures – didn’t want to ever mention it beforehand in case we got jinxed 
  3. How ‘un diverse’ the rest of the country is – to its detriment 
  4. No mechanical issues (apart from Dave’s bottom bracket early on)
  5. No injuries requiring medical assistance 
  6. No road rage
  7. No theft 
  8. No accommodation cancellation
  9. All ‘care packages’ arrived safe and sound- thank you Royal Mail 2nd class delivery service!

List 2 – Things that we’ve learnt 

  1. Rainbows = rain coming or rain going
  2. Suddenly feeling very good = about to feel very bad – not having had enough to eat or drink
  3. Alison will not follow anyone else in any circumstances 
  4. Heated towel rails are for wet cycling gear – not towels 
  5. Road kill becomes larger and more severe the further north you travel 

List 3 – Things that we’ve loved

  1. Champagne flutes are only used for prosecco north of Kidderminster and south of Aviemore. Outside of these areas you get a normal wine glass or a tumbler 
  2. The start of each day
  3. Tennents lager (Dave)
  4. Changing roadside foliage (Alison)
  5. Going downhill (Dave)
  6. Going uphill (Alison)
  7. Littlest Hobo
  8. Singing 
  9. Courteous road users
  10. Welcoming locals 
  11. Local identity not ruined by tourism

So, thank you for sharing in our most epic adventure. We will remember this journey forever. Would we do it again? Probably!Will we do something crazier instead? Yes!Signing off. Thank you for following!

Alison and Dave. Xx

Day 15 Evanton to Helmsdale (79km Falls = 0 Arguments = 0 Paddles In The Sea = 2)

First things first – it didn’t rain all day! It said it was going to, but it didn’t!

We finished today’s cycling in about 3 hours flat. The roads were so quiet and so good!

This meant we could spend a good couple of hours on the beaches at Golspie and Helmsdale. I And that is about it! I’ll let the photos do the talking as we are both exhausted and looking forward to finishing tomorrow!

Day 14 Aviemore to Evanton (85km Falls = 0 Arguments = 0 Earthquakes = 1)

We’re not ‘falling’ or ‘arguing’ but I’m superstitious, so I can’t remove the tally from the header as the moment I do we will ‘fall’ and ‘argue’. 

We managed to get 40km in to the ride today before it rained. There was a lot of swearing – it really is dragging us down now. We’re using our iPhones in quad locks attached to our bikes for navigation. When it rains you have to slip a ‘poncho type’ cover on. The frustration with this (besides having to stop) is that you can’t read the screen as easily and you can’t plug your charger in. 

Our route took us over the Slochd Summit and through Inverness – mostly on roads, but also some cycle paths. The views were breathtaking today. At one point I thought we’d slipped into Mordor!There was an actual earthquake in the Highlands yesterday. The main one was about 40 miles away, but there was a second in Kingussie – right where we were staying. I was sitting on the bed and it just started shaking! At the time I thought it was Dave messing about in the bathroom – or a large lorry going past outside – but now we know there was an actual earthquake!

Lots of people have commented that we must be losing weight with all this cycling! You’d think so wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, we are both consuming daily our own body weight in cooked breakfasts; Costa panninis and caramel lattes; protein bars; prosecco/beer; three course meals in the evening. At best I’d say we’ve stayed ‘body weight neutral’, but I have a suspicion that we’ll finish this trip a few pounds heavier!

The places we are staying are becoming more and more dubious as well! Our routine on arrival each day is that Dave goes in to check us in/collect care package (they’ve all arrived so far)/suss out whether we can put the bikes in the room and I wait outside with the bikes and survey the local area. 

Today the local area consisted of two teenage boys doing those stupid wheelies up and down the road (one fell off- haha) and a group of very drunk men visible through the ‘Salon bar’ window guffawing and and jeering around a pool table. 

Dave came out and said ‘Sorry babe, this is the worst one yet!’

The bikes had to go in the cellar. 

I’m too tired to actually care – the room is tiny – but surprisingly really clean – and there are 10 uht milk pots – winner!

Day 13 Blair Atholl to Aviemore (Falls = 0 Arguments = 0 Red Squirrels = 1)

Blair Atholl is beautiful and The Atholl Arms (where we stayed) was refreshingly stuck in its own Scottish time warp.  The tartan; the suits of armour on the walls; the swords; stuffed foxes, pheasants, deer heads and antlers on the walls; all made for a unique experience.

Unfortunately – we had the worst nights sleep of the trip! Tiny bed – you could feel the springs. I got bitten twice – once on my rib cage and once on my face – so not very happy. 

Today Royston promised us that this would be the prettiest route yet and I guess it would have been if not for the torrential rain!!

I said yesterday that I didn’t mind the rain and the wind – as long as I wasn’t cold. Well today I got COLD as well! Jeez!! 

The route took us up and over the Drumochter Pass – the highest point of the whole route at 462 metres above sea level. Unfortunately it also took us right through a rain cloud! Cycling through a rain cloud is like cycling through 100 lawn sprinklers all positioned so that they hit every angle of your body and bike so that there isn’t a single millimetre of you that isn’t soaked. Also, being at that height it is tit freezing! My jacket stuck to my skin and I couldn’t actually feel my toes. Quite frankly any scenery that was out there was obliterated by general greyness and I couldn’t see through my rain bedraggled glasses anyway. 

Despite all of this it was still pretty awesome and we can officially say that we’ve now reached the Scottish Highlands. Several times during our journey so far we’ve been thwarted by closed roads/BT/collapsed bridges/roads with freshly laid hot liquid tarmac and gravel. Today we had to navigate around an enormous lifting crane! Still not entirely sure what is was doing (of course there was no actual living persons doing anything) and we are long past caring even if there are several signs saying ‘road ahead closed’.We’ve loved the roadside waterfalls today and Dave even spotted a red squirrel which would not come down no matter how much peanut protein bar we sprinkled!We are both pretty tired now and it’s hard to even begin to believe that in three more days we will reach John O’Groats. 

Arriving at the hotel this afternoon we had the normal rigmarole of getting the bikes to the room. We are never on the ground floor. Today we were on the third and there was a lift. Great you might be thinking. The lifts are invariably tiny and getting even one of the bikes in requires a fair amount of wriggling around. 

I went first. 

I successfully got my bike out of the lift on the third floor and waited there for Dave.  A housekeeper (male – not that it’s important) arrived with a trolley of laundry and waited also. 

Cue Dave who we could both hear F’fng and Bl’dng all the way up the lift shaft with a finale of lots more choicer expletives on arriving at the third floor and having to retrieve panniers and helmets from the lift as the doors inevitably closed. 

It’s a bit hard to pretend you’re not with someone when you’re waiting outside the lift with your own bike!Probably the sweetest smelling horse ever!

I think weather wise this has been the toughest day yet. 
Tomorrow we reach Evanton – three more days!

Day 12 Kinross to Blair Atholl (85km Falls = 0 Arguments = 0 Rain Showers = 4)

It was raining. We looked out of the front door of the hotel – rain. We looked out of the back door of the hotel – rain. We sat in front of a panoramic window and observed carefully and undoubtably – rain. 

We were all packed up – cycling waterproofs on, helmets on, cycling shoes on, but somehow paralysed and slumped on the sofa in front of that window and that rain. 

A couple walked through where we were sitting and called out (jokingly) “Cowards – get yourselves out there!”

It was at that point that I decided to go into full monologue explaining that actually we had been in plenty of rain thank you very much – and mud – and wind and actually it is one thing being out already when the heavens decide to open on you and you grin and bear it because quite frankly you are already soaked to the bone, but if you have the choice – like we do right now – well!  We’re not cowards ok?

Dave is still staring out of the window. 

“Where’ve you come from?”

Now it’s always fun answering this question – just as much fun as answering “Where’re you going?”

“Lands End.”

Now you’d be surprised how many people don’t know where this is – nor John O’Groats for that matter – and the answer we give dictates how long the conversation is going to last. Well, we weren’t going anywhere fast. 

They were actually a lovely couple – they preferred walking themselves and we chatted for a bit about some of the routes they had taken; the benefits of hotels over camping (who would even do that?); and general stuff about travelling from place to place. 

Dave was still staring out of the window. 

In fact, after we (I) said goodbye to the couple Dave announced that he had downloaded a new weather radar app!  Apparently there was a ‘sausage’ (I know – I was dubious on the terminology) of rain sweeping from west to east and we were in fact going north – this was excellent news. This rain wasn’t going anywhere, but if we were brave and just left we would be through the weather (sausage) in about 10km. 

So that’s what we did and half an hour later we were in brilliant sunshine.I know we’re faced some weather challenges, but we’ve never actually been cold – thankfully. 

Today saw quite a bit of up and down – but the roads were really quite excellent. Even the ‘off-road’ section was excellent. 

I had to overcome my fears of hills yet again – but this time it was a descent rather than a climb. Royston Woods (whose route and book we are using) said;

The elevation shows a notably long and steep descent on which I recorded my highest speed on the entire trip on both of my test rides (about 50mph).

So naturally I’ve been panicking about it!

It was actually ok and apart from chronic cramp in both hands from braking for so long, I made it down without the ‘threatened ‘ walking!

We stopped in Dunkeld for some lunch – a really pretty little town. We managed to find a little coffee shop (not Costa – although that is the clear winner above Starbucks) where we could prop our bikes up outside and watch them from a window seat. 

Dave had been feeling unwell. His stomach was cramping and he was very, very hot. We think now that he may have overheated – and don’t laugh – but in Aldi in Penrith he’d bought a little white sleeveless cycling base layer (think ‘wife-beater’ for the visual) for a fiver! Oh how smug he was! 

We got pretty wet on at least four occasions, but each time we did the sun very kindly followed to dry us out again. You know you’re in Scotland when the carpet is tartan! This continues in the bedroom with bedspread and curtains also tartan! 

Dave has just actually embarrassed me by asking the barman what a ‘neep’ is!!

So we’re on the homeward straight! Four more days and we should reach John O’Groats!!!

‘Turnip’ if you’re wondering!!