Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Islay's Story and Tiny Lives - Part 1

Hi everyone,

Thanks for checking in, reading my blog, and supporting my Iron Butt challenge.

As many of you may know (or guess from my pseudonym) I rode my bike to the Arctic in 2014 to raise money for brain injury charity Cerebra, who have helped my little brother and my family for many years. I knew from quite early on I wanted to help give something back to Cerebra but it just took me a little while to figure out how to do it.

This time around, it didn't take long after our family got support from Tiny Lives, when my daughter Islay was born prematurely, that I knew I was going to be jumping on my bike to 'give something  back' again.

Now not many outside my family and close circle of friends really know Islay's story but I wanted to share just a glimpse of it to give you readers an insight into just why The Tiny Lives Trust means so much to us and why I'm determined to raise some money so they can continue to help other families.

My buddy Ant, part of my 'Welcome Home Party' - June 2014
Rewind to June 2014 and I'd just got back from the Arctic and things seemed pretty good. I'd completed the trip of a lifetime, raised a shed load of cash for charity, and I had the full summer to spend with my wife Kirsty before our first baby was due to be born in the middle of September. I wasn't to know that one morning at the start of August would be the start of my daughter Islay's amazing journey.

Kirsty and I pre-baby
It was Sunday the 3rd of August 2014, over a month and a half until Islay's due date so I can categorically say both Kirsty and I weren't prepared for the arrival of a baby. I woke to Kirsty seeming a bit concerned. As a precaution we went to the hospital to get Kirsty checked over and spent the full day with Kirsty wired up to different monitors and speaking to different doctors. They'd decided to keep her in overnight to keep and eye on her but the message I got was that Islay wasn't arriving just yet.

I wasn't allowed to stay at the hospital with Kirsty so the next morning I headed up in my work suit to see how things were going, expecting to spend some time in the office that day. Not long after I arrived Kirsty was getting wheeled into the delivery room... the baby was coming. The whole day was a blur. Kirsty was amazing, so much so she even let me eat the toast the midwife had brought her. As Islay was 6 weeks early and on the way, the doctors briefed up that when she was born there might be some issues and to try to not get too concerned if they had to whisk her off as soon as she was born. This was such a scary thought but I knew I had to put on a brave face for Kirsty, and have faith in the doctors. When Islay was born she let out a big cry and I was even able to cut the chord... everything seemed ok. Islay had to be taken away to get some antibiotics but apart from that it had gone to plan.

2 hours old Islay and I
I wasn't able to stay with the girls at the hospital so again I trooped home for the night. The next 24 hours Islay stayed on the ward with Kirsty and I was able to visiting during the day, get a little cuddle and come to terms with being a dad. Islay was having a some issues keeping her first feeds down but the midwives and the doctors were keeping an eye and said to use she might just be a sickly baby... I didn't know any different and was caught up in a world wind of emotions. Again that night I went home trying to get the house sorted for our new arrival and buy some tiny clothes for our tiny early baby. It was from then Islay's story turned into a nightmare.

That night around 10pm I got a phone call from Kirsty. Islay still wasn't keeping her milk down and the doctors were becoming increasingly concerned, they rushed her into the special care baby unit (SCBU) to work out what was wrong... I had to get to the hospital as soon as possible and meet them at SCBU. I immediately jumped on the bike and bombed up the hospital to be with Kirsty and Islay.

One of the scariest memories of Islay's story for me was the first time I was outside the door of SCBU. I remember going on a tour of the maternity unit only a week or so earlier with Kirsty. We were taken past a ward which I now know to be SCBU. I have such a clear memory of the midwife giving the tour and saying as we passed SCBU "This is ward 35, the Special Care Baby Unit, Its where all the sickest and critically ill babies go, but don't worry your baby won't end up here"... but my baby had and I was terrified of what could happen.

With tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat, I stood at the door of SCBU and rang the buzzer. From there for me the SCBU journey with Islay and Kirsty began.

Islay's Story and Tiny Lives - Part 2

**You can donate to my Iron Butt ride for Tiny Lives on my Giving Page**

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Iron Butt 'Warm up' Ride to The Highlands and prep

Greetings to the latest edition of The Arctic Rider blog,

Its just over 3 weeks until I set off to take on the 'Iron Butt' challenge to raise money for The Tiny Lives Trust.

No two ways about it, taking on ~900miles in a single day riding is going to be a challenge. I consider myself a somewhat seasoned long distance rider but I must admit I've been out of practice since I returned from the Arctic. I've done a few 250 mile days to the South West of Scotland to see family and the odd ride around Northumberland, so I knew I needed to get a good 'warm up' ride in preparation for the Iron Butt.

6am start from Newcastle
So last Sunday, I set my alarm early and got myself on the road by 6am ready to get the miles under my belt. I loaded up the bike with my touring boxes to get a feel for having a fully loaded bike again. The weather forecast was excellent but as I headed up through Northumberland en route to Scotland I was greeted by fog, cold temperatures, empty roads.

On-board cam in drizzly Northumberland  
Even with the fog and cool morning I made really good time and got the 120miles to Edinburgh by 8am, where I stopped for a drink and some fuel. I had planned to ride around 400 miles so having done a 3rd of that in 2 hours was good progress.

The bike felt really good, nimble and quick on the country roads, as well as being fast and smooth on the dual carriageways and motorways. The only issue I had after my first stop was the state of my legs. I've recently been diagnosed with tendinitis in my right hamstring and after 2 hours on the bike I was sore and very stiff... this continued to be a problem throughout the day.

Warm-up ride route
Concious not to waste to much time stopping, a skill I'll need on the Iron Butt, I jumped back on the bike and headed up the motorway to Stirling. I wanted my warm up ride includes as many elements of my Iron Butt as possible. It included fast country roads (Newcastle to Edinburgh), Motorway Riding (Edinburgh to Stirling) and finally highland 'A' roads (North of Stirling into the Trossachs national Park).

I'd set my sights on making it to Lochan na Lairige next to Ben Lawers, Scotland 5th higest peak. I ramdonly came across it on google maps a few weeks ago and through the roads and scenery looked good, and wow was I not disappointed. In fact it was stunning.

The Road leading to Loch Tay
The weather broke and the ride from Stirling up the A84 to Loch Tay was a dream. The combination of Lochs, Glens, and blue skies made me think I was riding through a postcard. I'd go as far as to say that this was one of my top 5 rides ever as a biker, it was that good.

At just after 10am, after a few map check stops, I made to to Lochan na Lairige and it was breathtaking. At 1800 feet above sea-level, at the end of a single track road, Lochan na Lairage is was Scotland is about.

Pano shot of Lochan na Lairige
After a short wander around and a bit of my sandwiches I headed back off home, possibly setting the world record for the quickest trip to The Highlands from England of all time.

Heading back on the same route I rode home, stopping to take a few photos and grab some fuel. Knowing I needed it test myself for my pace for the Iron Butt it was a case of head down and get back to Newcastle. I managed to get home for just before 3pm, meaning I had covered 400 miles in just short of 9 hours. I even had enough time to get changed and head over to a birthday BBQ for the afternoon... cash back. What a day.

So the warm up ride was a success but it was a good reminder of what I'm going to need to remember for my Iron Butt ride.

1. Thermals are a must in the UK, no matter what the forecast. I just about froze my knees off riding the morning Northumberland fog when the forecast was for bright sunshine all day.
2. Ear plugs Ear Plugs Ear Plugs... I forgot my ear plugs and the wind just about destroyed my hearing.
3. Shorter stops - I made 3 'proper' stops on my warm up ride and a few map checks, but I need to have them shorter and more efficient to give me the best chance of completing the Iron Butt. I'm planning to stop around every 150 miles and I need to be ruthless and do a quick leg stretch, grab few, throw down some food, and get back on the bike... Thats going to be tough.
4. Photos are for the way home. I could have stopped a dozen times in the highlands to take photos and admire the scenery but I'm just not going to have time at all. Luckily I'll have a camerman Andy with me and my GoPro to try and capture the best bits.
5. This is going to be tough. If I'm being honest, when I got back to Newcastle at 3pm all I wanted to do was go for a kip... I was bloody knackered... and that was less than half the distance I need to cover on the 5th of July. The day before the ride I'll be doing a 500 miles day just to get to Lands End... wow.

So that was my warm up ride done. Next up is a service and new set of tyres for the bike and more fitness work for me to try and get my body in some sort of  good condition for the punishments I'm going to be putting through over a few days at the start of my ride doing the Iron Butt.

Hopefully by now you will know that the whole reason I am doing this ride is to raise money for The Tiny Lives Trust in Newcastle. If you think a few bob is a good exchange for my body, my mind, and my safety to be on the line on 5th of July the please donate at www.virginmoneygiving.com/thearcticrider

Finally I'd like to give a short mention to Ian Bell who passed away racing at the Isle of Man TT today. Ian was a big character in the North East motorbike community as a racer with the NEMCRC, and as a bike shop owner with his dealership in Bedlington, Northumberland (where he sold me my first big bike). Also Ian was a generous support of my Arctic Ride in 2014 and I had the pealsure of presenting him and his sone a triophy at the NEMCRC meet at Croft in 2014. Rest easy mate.

April 2014 - Presenting the sidecar trophy to the Bell's (Bottom right)
And as a final sign off as always, Ride safe.