The Portugal Pie Eaters had a lot of big plans for 2020. You won’t be surprised to hear when I say — all of them were all cancelled. Looking to the future, well, for the time being, at least, it’s hard to be optimistic about 2021. But make no mistake, we’ll be back, riding further and harder (but probably not faster — well, we’re not getting any younger) than ever. To paraphrase the late, great Dame Vera Lynn, “Don’t know where, don’t know when”, but we will be back.
So it’s been a while since I last sat down and blogged about our cycle adventures. What can I say? Perhaps I’m lazy? Actually, that’s not fair. Like many other people at the moment in time, I am struggling with my levels of motivation. With that in mind, there is nothing like the looming January 31st deadline to do my tax return to motivate me to procrastinate that little bit more. I guess I’ll never learn.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in discovering that I’ve suddenly got a ton of spare time on my hands but not being able to do anything with it. So I figured, perhaps if I wrote about it, it would help me work through the fug and get creative again. It’s good to talk — right?
As we locked down last year, I set myself the goal of getting creative and publishing more cycling content to my blogs, the Facebook page, and my horribly ill-tendered podcast. I also hoped to write another book. None of this happened.
It’s difficult. As someone who prides themselves on being a fairly productive person, it’s so hard to be so productive when our lives are so restricted.
I guess the main problem is, I’m not really a creative writer. I basically document the things I do and then share them with a wider audience in the hope that they enjoy and maybe even benefit from what I’ve learned from my experiences.
Here’s the problem. When you’re not doing so much — you have very little to document and share.
I’m not sure anyone would want to read about my daily 20-mile lockdown bike ride around Grimsby and Cleethorpes. In fact, I’m so bored of this route; it takes a real effort to persuade myself to leave the house and get my bike from the shed. I’m so familiar with the route, now when I get back home — I can barely remember if I’ve even been out or not. I actually look forward to inclement weather, so I can differentiate one day from the other. I’ve even turned off Strava because in these unusual times, and even though my rides are all well within Government restrictions, I don’t want to advertise the fact that I’m out and about. Feeling guilty about going for a bike ride cannot possibly be healthy.
And, I honestly think 2021 is going to be more challenging than 2020.
After the Pie Eaters’ first ride of the year back in May 2020 was cancelled, we remained positive and just kept pushing it back a couple of months at a time. I was incredibly optimistic that it would happen in November. November never happened.
Similarly, a group ride across Belgium with some new Pie Eater recruits was abandoned. Then P&O ferries announced the closure of their Hull to Zeebrugge route partly due to low passenger numbers cause by Covid — making any future rides that little bit more difficult to make happen. Don’t get me wrong, I love making life difficult for myself because it makes creating great content less problematic. But when your riding companions have real jobs and other commitments to hold down, lack of access becomes a real roadblock.
We also had big plans to create something we could all be proud of. The Portugal Pie Eaters have always been passionate about promoting good mental health. Our annual rides across Portugal have become something that we all use in our good mental health arsenal. Just having something to look forward to and plan with friends is a real tonic. The ride’s challenge is also uplifting, and the memories from each ride keep us all upbeat until our next adventure. We’ve also used the ride to raise thousands of pounds for charities like Mind — the Mental Health Charity, which makes us feel really good about ourselves.
Towards the end of 2019, myself and my fellow Pie Eater, Dave Furness (who, by the way, does some fantastic work on social media around mental health), started talking about how we could take our ride across Portugal and share it with like-minded people who would benefit from challenging themselves, in a safe environment, on a long-distance bike ride in the sun.
We started speaking with bike hire companies, looking into incredibly dull stuff like insurance, and even floated the idea on social media, and were amazed at the level of interest from people interested in joining us.
Our annual ride across the Algarve in 2020 was going to be the one where we finally got serious about mapping the route and putting something together we could confidently offer to someone who might have slightly different expectations from us. As anyone who has read my book Follow the Blue Line: Cycling the Algarve will know — I like to keep my planning to a minimum, allowing 20% for the kind of chaos that makes things fun.
Obviously, those open group rides didn’t happen in 2020. I can also confidently predict that they are not going to happen in 2021. As for 2022 — well, let’s see how that goes, although I can promise you, it will happen one day.
I think the hardest thing about the ongoing pandemic is just not being able to plan anything. This is a huge problem for me. Being a doer, I believe in running at things and making them happen. Seriously, I have so many ideas but really struggle to tie even the basics down when I have no sight of when the thing will actually happen. I guess I get bored easily and then lose my train of thought. It’s hard to be disciplined when you feel like you are just wasting your time.
We do, of course, have moments of extreme optimism. Big Chris announced on the Pie Eaters’ WhatsApp group that he had holidays booked for May of this year and was looking forward to this year’s ride. It only took a few hours before breaking news of increasing infections and travel restrictions led us to admit that 2021 probably won’t happen.
Despite all of this, we are trying our best to stay optimistic. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we have big hopes for the effective roll-out of the vaccine. There’s talk of extending the ride (with our wives and girlfriend’s permission) to 5 days. I’m thinking we could go from Lisbon to Faro or even onwards to Gibraltar at this time. I’m also wondering about the possibility of doing this on a fold-up bike, so if anyone from Brompton is reading, please get in touch about a sponsorship opportunity. It would make a great book.
We’re also thinking about how we could make a more professional film of the ride. It would be great to get something out on the Streaming channels like Amazon Prime as well as YouTube. If anyone has any advice about a suitable Drone for filming a bike packing adventure — please get in touch via the comments or on the Follow the Blue Line Facebook page.
I think it’s also important to put things into perspective. The fact we cannot go on one of our little cycling adventure holidays is a bit of a first-world problem. At the time of writing this blog, all of us Pie Eaters have kept our health and have remained in work. Many other people haven’t been so lucky, and I’m reminded of an old friend who sadly passed away from this horrible disease at the weekend.
So despite it being so hard, we have to push ourselves to remain positive, keep ourselves in some semblance of fitness, plan for better days ahead and keep talking.
While it may be quite a long time before the Pie Eaters get back out on the road again in Portugal, I’m going to set myself a new challenge as soon as it is reasonably safe to do so. I want to do a different take on the coast to coast ride I did in the UK many years ago with my father-in-law, which was my first ever long-distance cycling experience.
This time around, I will attempt to go from Grimsby Docks (actually from Docks Beers — my local craft brewery) to Liverpool Docks. The ride will take me through Sheffield, over the Pennines, and into Manchester. I might even pop in to see Dave in Oldham. All of this will be done in the spirit of maintaining social distance, and I am planning on camping along the route — so it definitely needs to get warmer. I think there is a metaphor in this ride. Both Docks Beers and Liverpool Docks represent significant rejuvenation in areas that over the years have seen hard times. Seeing as we’ve all had hard times recently and could probably do with a bit of rejuvenation — I think it sums up how we all feel at the moment.
As I write this blog, I’m reminded of an article I wrote in simpler times about the secret of finding happiness in everything you do, which was inspired by a feature on a Radio 4 talk show discussing the concept of happiness and whether the government was responsible for ensuring its delivery.
A guest on the show suggested that true happiness wasn’t connected to wealth, success, or social standing. Instead, to be truly happy, you must have three things:
- Something to love: This could be family, friends, or even a pet. There really is strength in community. Even if you are lucky like me to have your family’s love and support, it’s also important to reach out beyond your household.
2. Something to do: A job, a hobby, time spent volunteering, or in education. As we push through this pandemic, I’m more convinced than ever about this. Every man needs a hobby. If that hobby can involve a shed and something to fix and tinker with — all the better. As a cyclist who rides every day, my bike always needs a little work here and there. I received a bike repair stand and a set of tools for Christmas — and seriously, it was the best present ever. I’m a long way away from describing myself as a bike mechanic, but last weekend, I successfully changed my chain and cassette and indexed my gears, something I’ve never really been able to do myself. Here’s to small victories.
3. Something to look forward to: This could be a holiday, a social event, or even a regular meeting with friends. This last one might not be so easy to attain at the moment, but I know that I always feel better after catching up with a friend, even if that is just on Zoom, so it’s always important to remember to make an effort to catch up.
And on that final point of making an effort, I’m going to attempt to renew my motivation for sharing what I hope to be useful, engaging, and relevant content on a more regular basis. If I let myself down in this direction, give me a shove by dropping me a note in the comments or on the Follow the Blue Line Facebook page.
Of course, if you really want to encourage me, you can always fuel these blog posts by grabbing a copy of my book Follow the Blue Line: Cycling the Algarve or consider buying me a coffee on the aptly named BuyMeaCoffee.com.
How are you coping with life under lockdown? Are you cycling through the pandemic, or is your bike stuck in the shed? Let me know in the comments section below, and don’t forget to look after yourselves and the people around you.