New training blog – www.decaironman-training.com

Apologies for no recent updates – I will seek to amend this in the coming week. I have been working on a separate training blog – http://www.decaironman-training.com, in order to keep this site quite focused on the ‘how to meet a million people’ challenge.

Interestingly the new blog has featured in the Telegraph online yesterday in an article by the Olympic rower, James Cracknell. I have posted details of this article below.

Thank you for your patience!

Original article:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10472742/James-Cracknell-my-recommended-brain-injury-charities.html

James Cracknell: my recommended brain injury charities

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@JamesCracknell Had bike crash 2yrs ago & helmet saved me, fundraisin in DecaIronman decaironman-training.com/2013/11/18/1strecommended charities? @NWlongworth

I think I should be recommending you a therapist rather than a charity! I’m not one to instantly dismiss an endurance challenge, but the thought of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and then a 26.2 mile marathon – in other words an Ironman – never struck me as the most pleasurable way to spend all the hours of the day.

That being said, it must subconsciously be on my radar, simply because I already know what a DecaIronman is. For the sane out there who have never heard of the term before, a DecaIronman is ten Ironmans back to back!

Once you’ve finished the marathon in the first Ironman, you get straight back into the water to start Ironman 2 and another 2.4 mile swim. A process that you repeat, repeat, and repeat, either for a lifetime or until you reach 10, whichever comes first.

While we don’t share a DecaIronman as an ambition, what we do have in common is that we’ve both been saved by a bike helmet and now want to raise money and help others by taking on challenges.

Headway (The Brain Injury Association) is who I raise money for. They help victims and the families of Acquired and Traumatic Brain Injury (ABI & TBI) sufferers. Headway were the charity that helped my family and I understand the impacts and effects of T/ABI on my life and how to cope with them.

Through Headway I was able to build strategies to cope with my injuries, gaining an understanding/insight into an illness that I’d never been exposed to previously. Today I fully appreciate how lucky I was to survive, and feel privileged to be able to raise money for a charity that helps so many people.

At this stage I should point out a potential conflict of interest: I’m the Vice President of Headway – but don’t let that dissuade you from raising money for a charity that does phenomenal work for sufferers and their families.

Other charities dedicated to helping brain injury sufferers are the Child Brain Injury Trust (CBIT) and The United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF).

Like so many victims of TBI or ABI I now have epilepsy, which shamefully still has a stigma associated with it that prevents people feeling able to talk about their condition. The Epilepsy Society does amazing work in this area.

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Top 10 Inspirational Videos for Cycling/Triathlon

Morning rides aren't always this inviting

Morning rides aren’t always this inviting

There is nothing like a short sharp video to remind you on why you set that alarm for 5am (after most likely coming in at 2am on a Friday night) to go out and torture yourself on the bike. You may also use them instead of staring at a wall in the gym while you beast it on the spin bike – there is definitely one or two videos that I can weirdly recall all the worlds off by heart like a robot!

So to save time on your little crack of dawn search on YouTube I have put together 10 of the best to help you out of bed. It’s a mix of cycling intensive videos with a healthy dose of just plain universally appealing motivational footage. Enjoy.

[Don’t seem to be linking at the moment]

Best Hawaii Ironman motivation and inspiration

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=o54GvGL7sv8-

Ironman – Till I Collapse

http://m.youtube.com/watch?p=PL32265CD981289E1A&feature=plpp&v=jnqpYKx8Fvk

London to Singapore overland – Part 3; Moscow to Hoi An, Vietnam

 

Old and boring

Before we tackle the world’s longest single train journey – aka the Transsiberian – lets have a look back at Moscow itself.

I had a few days to spare in the Russian capital and was luckily joined on my travels, by my good friend Byron, who was subsequently with me right up to the point I left Beijing 2 weeks later (thanks for the patience….). Luckily Byron had a friend Paddy who put us both up for a few days in the Dynamo area of the city – thanks Paddy – and it was finally a chance to refuel after the Transcontinental Bike Race & a mad dash across Eastern Europe. Of course the Kremlin is THE sight for Moscow – complete with Red Square (which for us was getting ready for the Russian Tattoo, who knew), Lenin’s Tomb and some stunning museums but you also won’t be disappointed by the stunning statues and mosaics in the underground/metro. Revolution Square station (or Ploshchad Revolutsii station) is particularly stunning with dozens & dozens of bronze statues – rubbing the dogs nose is apparently good luck & from the lack of polish left on the end of it, it seems this is a charm a lot of people follow! Of course we also had a good mosey around the GUM shopping district – a converted grain depository – opposite the Kremlin, complete with its 800 pound sterling cavier; Gorky park, which is complete with a US Space Shuttle replica; and tasted the wonders of the Russian chain Moo-Moo – a place decorated exclusively with cows and food which was pretty much priced as a mid-ranged London restaurant but they weighed each portion, so in the end you may be craving more!

Sight-seeing at the Kremlin

Famous red walls of the Kremlin

Grandeur of the Moscow subway - click picture for link to more pictures from a Business Insider article

Grandeur of the Moscow subway – click picture for link to more pictures from a Business Insider article

A quick note on the Kremlin – make sure you get a pass to the Armoury, it is absolutely packed with everything from grand gold dining plates, to suits of armour, royal robes to my personal favourite the simply massive house drawn carriages of the late Tsars. Pictures weren’t allowed – you can get a pass I believe though – and not to sound too much like a Moscow guide, it cost us about 450 rupees/9 pound sterling. Unfortunately Byron and I stupidly didn’t get a general pass to the greater Kremlin area so we sat out inside the walls & the Grove Gate for a good hour!

After a two days visiting Moscow city centre; and lets not dwell on the individual attractions & merits of Russia because this is about the adventure! We headed to the Transiberian train for our 6 day journey. Byron and I were armed with all the noodles we could carry, as well as sausage,bread and bananas (there may have been some meat jerky and coke there but it wasn’t exactly exciting cuisine!) we loaded up into our 4 man cabin. We were joined by a Finnish lawyer, on route to North Korea (these are the kinds of interesting people you come to meet on that train) and its turns out the train is pretty much filled with westerners – right up until the final carriage past the dinner car which was Russian. Looks like Aeroflot have really stated a claim on trans-Russian transport! As we were heading to Beijing,in turns out we were on the dedicated Chinese train with Chinese train guards – all very keen to help but quite rightly enjoyed any misfortune that we endured (as you will see)!

As always Seat61 is THE resource for direct planning on this journey – http://www.seat61.com/Trans-Siberian-moscow-beijing.htm#.UjGwpNKmilU – and as stated the typical scenery for the first 3 days was Birch Tree! I was very glad that Byron had brought a cycling book in the ‘Pursuit of Lance Armstrong’ to be honest! However I suppose it is about the journey, whose rhythm was shaken up by Byron losing his phone down through a small slit in the window; as he attempted this frame-by-frame shooting (a technique he thought he had perfected by Day 5, only to delete the files by mistake….), the mad dashes out onto the Siberian platforms as soon as we stopped at a station to restock on salted cheese to go down with our small bottle of cognac (the Chinese guards eventually took the whole window frame apart for a good half an hour and were paid with our 1 bottle of vodka); exploring the Russian dining car complete with grumpy couple who slept and work there – the man in a wife-beater was particularly memorable. There was also the game of Poker in which our Finnish cabin mate bled us dry – luckily it was just for chips!

Attempting frame by frame shooting.....

Attempting frame by frame shooting…..

Siberian station

Quick snaps at Siberian train stations along the way

Russian dining car on Transsiberian train

Russian dining car on Transsiberian train

Things picked up a little bit as we approached Ulan-Ude and Lake Baikhal – impressively the train was running on time, by the minute; all stations on the full timetable were reached on time – beat that National Rail!

Transsiberian/TransMongolian Timetable

As you can see from the pictures below, sunrise at Lake Baikal started to make up for any regrets that may have built up over the last three days (perhaps not quite our exclusive diet of noodles) and we were even joined by some new carriage mates – A Russian girl learning Mongolian in Ulaan Bator, a French girl heading down to Beijing (with some stopovers in Mongolia) and a Singapore girl – complete with the greatest collection of border stamps in any passport I had every seen – I think the count was 120 countries she had been to;the last stop being Turkmenistan and the Afghan border. As you can clearly see from my detailed inclusion of some of our fellow travel companions we were grateful to have fresh faces on the train by this stage, particularly with the departure of our Swedish and Swiss neighbours in UB!

Deepest freshwater lake in the world - Lake Baikal, great alarm clock!

Deepest freshwater lake in the world – Lake Baikal, great alarm clock!

Our 'dining' table in the cabin, next to Lake Baikal, complete with Chinese beer; sold to us by the train guards

Our ‘dining’ table in the cabin, next to Lake Baikal, complete with Chinese beer; sold to us by the train guards

After the lake the landscape got really interesting – well a bit surreal. This was Mongolia, the place I had been staring at on my work computer for the last 3 years and in some places it was like being on the moon. Take a look for yourselves below. After all the excitement of the Mongolian capital, including a quick exploration of the station which was complete with Wi-fi and a dedicated Karaoke room, we set out to explore the new restaurant car which was next placed beside our carriage. The food and surroundings were cheaper and more intriguing (in equal measures – although we are guilty of choosing the omelette after 4 days on noodles!); and Byron proceeded to spank me at chess for the next few hours…..even the fact that the landscape had turned into one giant flat grass field for 3-4hours didn’t help me concentrate at the cold war tactics of my opponent! Somewhere in the catalogue of photos I have one of a stature of Mongolia’s first Cosmonaut from one of the stops – but I will leave you wiki that!

Traditional Yurts in the suburbs of UB

Traditional Yurts in the suburbs of UB

Mongolian dining car on transsiberian train

Mongolian dining car on transsiberian train

Contrast between the sprawling town of UB - which was also gripped by construction of multi-storey buildings, and the northern Mongolian hills behind

Contrast between the sprawling town of UB – which was also gripped by construction of multi-storey buildings, and the northern Mongolian hills behind

I was lying about flat Mongolia............

I was lying about flat Mongolia…………

After all the excitement of Mongolia – and as our Canadian friend the next morning pointed out you can spend days in Yurts drinking fermented horse milk and driving/horse riding in straight lines across the horizon – you thought it would be possible to get some sleep. Unfortunately entering China comes at a price – and I dont mean the stern looks of the border patrol women – but the train having its wheels changed for the non-Soviet tracks – lots of banging and violent rocking on the border!

Lifting the train begins - changing train wheels on the Mongolian-Russia border

Lifting the train begins – changing train wheels on the Mongolian-Russia border

It seems however that the Chinese were quick to make up for the nuisance of the previous night and we were treated to a free breakfast (or shall I say egg and frozen butter) and quite a good lunch (meatballs and rice) in the new Chinese dining car. As much as it felt like some war food vouchers or some sort of propaganda tool, I have no doubt every member of the train appreciated the little pieces of paper – it certainly allowed us to plan a group activity (which are some what limited on the transsiberian to tea/coffee and crowding around a laptop for a movie)!

The hotel.....sorry, the modern looking Chinese restaurant car on the Trans-Chinese train

The hotel…..sorry, the modern looking Chinese restaurant car on the Trans-Chinese train

And if we were disappointed that there was no movie in the restaurant car, it didn’t matter because THE scenery of the trip (or so had been said in the guidebooks) didn’t disappoint as we snaked our way through the Chinese mountains towards Beijing [Note to self, must look the name of these mountains up!]

Some nifty camera work to catch the mountains before we disappeared back into the tunnels

Some nifty camera work to catch the mountains before we disappeared back into the tunnels

Not to mention the long valleys, with mountains that seemed to have mountains

Not to mention the long valleys, with mountains that seemed to have mountains

And then, with our mouths open for the last 1 1/2 hours gulping at the mountains above, we had reached Beijing. Nothing was complete without a ‘victory’ photo on completing the Moscow-Beijing train journey non-stop, even amongst the mayhem that we believed the city would bring just around the corner.

Our 'victory' photo from completing the Moscow-Beijing train non-stop

Our ‘victory’ photo from completing the Moscow-Beijing train non-stop

And so after the distraction of our 6 day train, the ‘tourism’ could begin again. First we landed at 365 hostel (our residence for our stay there, it was great, get on it) and our base camp for $1.50 beer & further venturing out into the mist of cosmopolitan Beijing. It was within a couple minutes walk of Tiananmen Sq (its really just a big square but leads on to the entrance of the Forbidden city, which everything in Beijing is focused around, including the Chinese version of the circle Tube line) and some of the best street food I have ever had; the whole shopping district as you move south from Qianmen station is very interesting – both remarkably western but also with pedestirianised and very Chinese shops.  Unfortunately it was also within this area that we investigated the Chinese take on McDonalds – a yin & yang burger (2 black & white burgers) and Christmas music playing…..hmmmmmm

365 Inn was number 24 if I remember correctly!

365 Inn was number 24 if I remember correctly!

Western shopping district around Qianmen; note tram line and building marking the edge of Tiananmen Sq on the left

Western shopping district around Qianmen; note tram line and building marking the edge of Tiananmen Sq on the left

We ‘did’ the Forbidden city – about 4 sq kilometres of endless palaces; a description which doesn’t really do thousands of years of history justice but anything over sightseeing in there for 3 hours gets very heavy :p! The Beihai Park, with pedal boats on the lake, gave us some relief from some ruthless sight-seeing, and our slow progress around the lake on what can only be described as a lawn-mover engine, seemed to encourage talk on Premiership football……the Autumn rugby internationals can’t come soon enough! At the 11th hour we made it into the Bird’s Nest (2012 Olympic Stadium); and I am told our famous Lightning Bolt-MoBot photo is on route by my companion (my camera had died at this point!); to witness the construction of a very large tree stage – which we concluded was the scene for a Kung-Fu Monks show, whose participants were wandering around in tracksuits in the stadium. There seemed to also be the makings of a Chinese Madame Tussauds in the stadium, with wax works of past & present Olympic presidents…..we moved on quickly as you can imagine……

Entrance to the Inner Forbidden City - which had been exclusive to royalty, concubines, top officials & enuachs. I suppose the phrase 'turning in their graves' can be used with the tourist invasion; mind you mostly Chinese tourists

Entrance to the Inner Forbidden City – which had been exclusive to royalty, concubines, top officials & enuachs. I suppose the phrase ‘turning in their graves’ can be used with the tourist invasion; mind you mostly Chinese tourists

The 365 Inn proved to be a fantastic escape from this routine that us tourist seemed to conform to in big cities – and I am now glad to say that on our final ‘sightseeing’ day we missed the bus to the Great Wall because of late night drinking with some fellow travellers (plus Jono, a present & future friend from Singapore – careful mention there!) including an Irish girl, who was also on route to North Korea (and indeed from the next town from me in Ireland & writing for the local newspaper) and my travelling companion got chatting to while I slumped in my bed (loser right!). I, like alot of people, eagerly await her N Korea entry: http://tptravels.wordpress.com/

Apparently my home town was the only one to make the grade (apart from Dublin) on the Irish map on the hostel wall

Apparently my home town was the only one to make the grade (apart from Dublin) on the Irish map on the hostel wall

Lots of admin took up a large chunk of the final full day – HSBC we will discuss matters and your global bank title – but we did get a chance to stroll down to the ‘Western’ shopping district – Wangfujing Street – under the guise of looking for a foreign bookstore. Fortunately we did get to witness some local delicacies on a side street –

Scorpion anyone?

Scorpion anyone?

For our final evening we even classed it up and smuggled ourselves into the best Peking Duck Restaurant in Beijing – complete with flip-flops and cycling top – and landed in Sanlitun bar road (which had been highlighted on a hostel map & turned out to be the embassy hangout in the city; as well as some very interesting characters such as New Zealand importers/exporters and S Korea businessmen). We even started to splash out on London priced beer (a shock from the $1.50 we had grown accustomed to) and discussed the merits of fighters in Muay Thai boxing on the TV (hoping to catch the real thing in Bangkok, stay tuned!).

Muay Thai and beer; excellent combination

Muay Thai and beer; excellent combination

Soon it was time to jump back on the train for the next installment; an episode which eclipsed all other train boardings. After a quick loop around the Temple of Heaven site, we headed to the grandest Railway station I had ever seen – apart from it was like a Chinese Wall Street in disguise. With some frantic ticket waving, running up & down flights of stairs (including a very rushed goodbye to my 2 week travel buddy Byron) and the sheer relief of actually stepping on the right train, I was off; direct to Hanoi, Vietnam. Beijing Railway station Train down to Vietnam was 24hours but nothing to crazy. A brief stopover in Nanning and a private escort to & from the waiting room (as it seems I had the honour of being the only westerner on the train) was about the height of it! Still maybe my eye for excitement had changed over the last 6 weeks, we did have the constant blowing of the hour; which seemed to signal impending doom approaching us on the railway track.

Hanoi is a great place. Really vibrant. Quite crazy, but nothing overwhelming like New Dehli; and at least this time, was the place that I met up with my girlfriend, Carly, who had flew out 3 months earlier to Singapore. Very special. Our Hanoi experiences, which straddled our trip to Halong Bay for a day either side, mainly consisted of finding the best food & drink that we could flavour in the city. And where would you be in a new city without the all important people watching; which I think we excelled at, as these pictures from the balcony of Finnegans Irish Bar prove I think. In addition there was also the famous karaoke bars which spilled out on the street and had outrageously small plastic chairs – everything more comfortable with a few beers of course.

The buzz of Hanoi

The buzz of Hanoi

After HaLong Bay (which I thought would make a suitable and striking conclusion to this part of the blog below) I joined a UK lad from the hostel for a bit of historical reference of Hanoi City. First of all – Ho Chi Minh is not just the new name for Saigon but the name of the North Vietnamese Communist leader since the 1930s and right through the Vietnam war. I suppose the ‘American/Western imperalist’ education we received didn’t highlight that! Alongside the Ho Chin Mih mausoleum, we took in the National Museum and a fine collection of American & Vietnamese war relics. For those interested in a bit of history and stuff, these few pictures are for you:

US Vietnam War massacres

US Vietnam War massacres

US fighter

If Hanoi was a rich, changing cocktail of scooters, succulent street food and international visitors……..Halong Bay was this still, protected but incredibly beautiful oasis……………………….ok well my descriptions need work but just look at this landscape, no wonder it is a world heritage site.

Fishing villages in the Halong Bay landscape

Fishing villages in the Halong Bay landscape

I can’t take the credit for the planning – the gf had planned everything, right from the pick-up at the hotel – but this organized 2 night tour on the junk boat was a wonderful way to embrace a bit of SE Asia, away from the turblent cities and from behind the glass on my collection of trains. After a 3 1/2 hour minibus journey, complete with your half expected stop at a dedicated store on route (this time it was an art & sculpture center with work down by disabled people; so I really didn’t mind) we arrived at Halong City, awaiting our transfer onto the junk. Our boat consisted of 19 travellers, a collection from Australia, South Africa, Canada & France, and as the days progressed a wonderful bunch to hang out with. The whole trip was organised by IndoChina Junk and credit, when credit due, they did a great job at it. With an itinerary that mixed 11-12 course meals, kayaking amongst the towering cliff faces, exploring floating villages – I have never wanted to volunteer in a local school so much – , food scultpuring demonstrations, swimming off the junk, sunbathing on island beaches and evening dinners in hidden caves; I couldn’t really fault it. I suppose the only grey mark – although traditional etc – was the ‘unique’ water puppet show on the way back; I think after 3-4 hours on the road alot of people were keen to just get out for a last night’s dinner in Hanoi! Anyway, I think these pictures below soak up the experience much better than my ranting, so enjoy!

HaLong Bay cave dinner on the final night

HaLong Bay cave dinner on the final night

Beats 5 star dining everytime

Beats 5 star dining everytime

Not a bad setting for kayaking right?

Not a bad setting for kayaking right?

Living life, one blue barrel at a time

Living life, one blue barrel at a time

The world famous Vietnamese water puppet show

The world famous Vietnamese water puppet show

Hanoi Beach sunset

Hanoi Beach sunset

Wonderful day with Carly

Wonderful day with Carly

Next time…….so from Hanoi I travelled down to Ho Ani (which I am currently in). On route to Nha Thrang-Saigon-Phomh Phen-Bangkok and down through Thailand. Hopefully next time I will have pictures and tales from some of the following:

Muay Thai match

Stroking some kind of large beast – Elephant/Tiger will do!

Quite a bit of diving…………………

How I almost made it to Istanbul….Tackling Europe’s toughest, solo bike race

It was nice having some weight when I started!

It was nice having some weight when I started![More pictures coming up, no USB connection at terminal]

Well that was one crazy trip and now I am into my trip across Asia. So while I wait for my train to Lviv in Ukraine, I am going to pick my head and try to remember the details of those crazy two weeks.

As many of you may know, I was struck down by food poisoning tanstalisingly close to the finish (NE Greece) but certainly I will remember a lot more from the trip than the ‘result’. I also hope that the sheer experiences of cycling the distances involved everyday will bring me closer to pro cycling and the industry as a whole. i certainluy hope to engage with cycling clubs when I settle in my new job in Singapore. I also want to use this blog to express my thanks to all those that helped me along the way – including my father, girlfriend, family & friends and all those called upon at late notice to help out – for example my bike is currently being shipped back to Ireland by some very kind family friends. Thank you.

And finally, and very importantly, I wanted to express my thanks to those people who donated to my charities – the WWF and Injured Rugby Players Foundation –http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth1 &  http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth2 respectively. Two fantastic causes and I hope this account justifies your time and donations. Thank you.

There seems to be a few holes in this account – How keeping an accurate record was difficult

As I soon found out, keeping a record of the journey is quite frankly very hard. This was a race after all, 2200 or so miles that you are going flat out. You stop to take pictures, that speed average that you just spent the last 3 hours doing in the midday sun is down. That being said lets not be a Nazi about it. The ‘main’ reason for little camcorder footage (I think I have some from the first day or two) is that I didn’t have a dynamo (electricity generator on the bike) so every power point was for the GPS or the emergency battery – and when you are camping in the woods for 2-3 nights in a row, that 30minutes getting refuelled in a cafe to escape the sun or getting a free shower in a friendly hotel goes straight to the GPS!

Why the Garmin Edge 800 should be always be an important part of your kit and so is having a route plan

Going to put a follow up article on this but as you will see from the trip review, when you dont have the Garmin GPS as your buddy, assistant, these trips can be filled with panic and ultimately that uses up energy and distracts focus from covering the day’s distance. The Garmin is a wonderful back up to a planned route – i.e. you know the kind of terrain in an area, the main towns, cities. Like every tool in the adventure inbox ultimately every piece of kit compliments or aids another, the GPS is part of your map reading and route planning, a very vital part. It will keep you off very busy roads and will allow for progress even when in pitch black darkness – I had several occasions when 17hrs into a days ride all I wanted was that left or right on the GPS so I didn’t have to ‘THINK’ about directions. But get to know your GPS, I made mistakes because I didn’t use the device to its full advantage and regrettably I only got in the flow later in the race. In addition to the GPS, if you are using it for hours after hours (and the device can last all night) is get a dynamo to charge it. Like all devices it needs to be powered and it can give you the best short cut in the world – missing out big towns etc, just make sure you can keep up with its power demands – don’t worry about the GPS, it will know all the roads you can ever imagine. Very accurate, and got me out of very sticky situations.

Day one

Press commitments first on the bridge at Westminister, 31 or so riders eagerly anticipating the start of the toughest solo bike race in Europe. It was tremendously exciting and thanks to some dear friends I was not tired from last minute planning (I took myself off to bed while they put together final maps etc, thank you again!), I couldn’t wait.

Day one turned very much into team racing, ie. everyone was going to the same checkpoint in Geraardsburgen in Belgium (where all the cobbles are for the Tour of Flanders) and so we found ‘sharing’ resources, maps, drafting etc seemed to come into play. I certainly enjoyed setting a pace in northern France and Belgium – logistics is not my strong point but I love killing myself on the bike!

The route down to Folkstone was fairly straight forward, heading towards Ashford and on. In the heat of the moment, you do see different riders take different courses and ultimately a particularly route may shave 20 minutes off etc. Certainly I found myself on some great country roads coming down from the A2 towards Maidstone, which may have been a great ride but heading down towards Faversham may have been best. Still I was on an ok time and was heading for the 2pm ferry in good time (the ferry departure times that people reached were 12pm (they had definitely practiced the route and were fast(, 2pm, 4pm). Ok start. 4miles from Dover, I got 3 punctures – 1 of which had been my own fault with a rushed inner tube fix. A stop in Halfords meant it was the 4pm for me. Still I meet some great riders, a former pro called David I recall and a member of one of only 4 teams (of 2) that had finished the race across America in the time limit. So not too bad considering.

I had been advised to take the ferry over to Dunkirk rather than Calais, shaving 30miles off and about a dozen of us set out at different paces from the port. At this stage I was still getting to grips with the Garmin GPS and my original route had been from Calais (what I later discovered was the best way to utilise the device was to just find the best way to a particular location rather than set route). The roads were magnificant and we set a hard pace – 38kph average – which as my legs later got stronger was peanuts to the 42+kph I was setting with pros down the Italian coast.

With 3 other riders we tackled the maze of routes from Oudenaarde towards Geraardsbergen and landed at the checkpoint at about 1am…..tragically as I found out when we reached the arranged hostel, those few hours from the ferry and confusion through Belgium made a huge difference in this race, as riders were setting out for day 2 as we arrived.

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Day two

Disaster. This was my first real test in doing big mileage day after day with little sleep so I just went into auto pilot as I set out at 6:30am or so the next morning. Got my route up on the GPS – after all it was set out from the first checkpoint – and off I went…..little did I realise that I had stupidly – and this bugs me to the day – brought it up in the wrong direction. It was only when I started focusing on my compass that I found that I had been going 2 hours NORTH!!! In a little bit of a panic at this stage I passed back past Geraardsburgen 4 hours later and heading east to Brussels, plenty of signs and well we had to go east, right? It was on the edge of Brussels though that the GPS really came back in its element. I stopped and calmed myself for a few minutes as I struggled to find a decent route south out of the city. I entered in south to Freiburg on the device and behold the route was there – A route which I must add I had past about 20minutes before, which consisted of quite a busy road (but only for 2 miles or so) and which I had dismissed because well frankly I didn’t want to be stuck on that busy road for 50-70 miles, not around a busy city anyway. But the GPS got me on the right track and I made my way down to Huy – wonderful town around a river. I was thinking of heading out through the night but my mind was fried and I was in no mood (or brave enough) to take on the dark country roads. Certainly that is an element of the race I struggled with throughout the two weeks – to make ‘real’ time and distance, you cant stop for 4-5 hours at night and you have to treat the night’s riding like the day. As the race went on, I made a semi rule of cycling til about midnight or around that time when I found a suitable bed, and then setting out at first light. About 18hours cycling – 300km or so (depending) – that became the goal – and certainly as the days came one after another, it was this short term goal that kept me focused.

Day three

So I had my first dose of camping out in my emergency foil tent and blanket that night, and well it isn’t too bad apart from the very quick movement in the morning to heat the body up! At this stage the memory gets a bit fuzzy, the rest of the pack were about 70-80-100miles in front of me and I had made a pitiful effort (in terms of distance) on day two. This was really when I decided to pick up the race at the scruff of the neck and stop worrying about cameras or notes or photos…..I had to go all out.

The GPS lead me down towards Luxemburg City – in passing Luxemburg and southern Belgium are not flat (of course nothing to what comes later) but after the easy going coast road on day one, this told me the real cycling was just getting started.

To be honest, trying to recall were I crashed that night is proving very difficult but I followed a German cycling group toward Metz in France….and then heading out towards Strasbourg……I really was going flat out…..

Day four

This was the first taste of hills and mountains. I wanted to cross over the hills around Munster – towards Strasbourg and Freiburg – as it was meant to be stunning. I wasn’t disappointed. Solid ride into the early afternoon and I meet the Rhein canal at Erstein I believe. This was where I could pick up some distance and the flat canal lead me down towards Basel in Switzerland – had to chat to quite a few German campers to get restocked with fresh water – I would have killed for a cafe to just collect my thoughts and get rehydrated – but nevertheless, even after the easy going canal cycle path seem to have stopped at about Marckolsheim, I stopped on the German side of the border at Neuenburg am Rhein to get some food at a garage and recharge the GPS. Tell you what it all seems so casual when you are reading from Google Maps – you really earn each mile when you are out there!!

My happy face after a tough morning ride

My happy face after a tough morning ride

Until about 1am-2am that night I made my way around Basel – through Weil am Rhein I believe – and got on the ‘3’ road towards Zurich. Thunderstorms lit up the nights sky and I dived for cover in a office complex courtyard. No point getting soaked right and got my head down for a few hours. In all this rush though and with the memory of the hot day I didn’t anticipate the drop in temperature. After a quick warm up in a lift! that next morning I set out for day 5 towards Zurich.

Day five

I must admit by this stage I felt absolutely disgusting, after camping out for 3 nights in a row with only one dry kit. Luckily that morning I had convinced a hotel to let me use a shower and get breakfast, and so after a few days camped out, I felt refreshed and ready to go down towards checkpoint two in the Alps.

On the road to Zurich I joined a Swiss triathlete for a hour or two and although the pace slowed it was nice to get some real company. I circled Zurich and made my way towards St Gallen. At this stage the GPS had died but I knew roughly the route and was quite confident with my compass reading! Without following the main roads, things get a little tricky in this area, with the changes in altitude of the road meaning that you often had to go back on yourselves to go the right way. Past Rapperswil I joined a cycle path down towards the Walensee – the scenery around here is absolutely spectular, you should look into it! Unfortunately for me but although Google maps make the route obvious, I followed the cycle path on the north side of Walensee and it ended. An annoying detour but for an afternoon cycle it was fantastic viewing. Back to the race…..it did occur to me the opportunity to ask for a lift on a yacht across to the south side but to avoid the lengthly negiotations involved, I decided to head back and crossed over at Weesen. Some very weird cycle routes this side, which has mind blogging gradient – some must have been 20-25%. I did meet a great Czech character with Bon Jovi playing loading on an electric assisted bike – I post a picture when I get a chance, I think he had a cowboy hat on in fact.

Got to love Bon Jovi

Got to love Bon Jovi

Avoiding the main roads and intimated by getting lost up some high mountain roads – lots of effort to come back down – I found myself stopped in a German bar/old hostel for the night. Can’t believe I lost the bar’s card, but this place was in about Saas im Prattigau along the main 28 road south. Two great Swiss guys – or should I say one, the owner, the other guy was pissed as a fart and kept joking with me in German – shared a beer with me in this quiet village alongside the now, mad, dangerous 28 night road.

Day six

So as much as I had hoped, I didn’t reach the Stelvio Pass the day before. A former Italian pro cyclist – who had been in the Tour of Britain in 1969 apparently – had told me I wouldn’t make it and he was right….regrettably. Being stuck up a mountain at night with limited kit was not my idea of fun but unfortunately in my lovely abandoned hostel accommodation in Saas im Prattigau I overslept my alarm – well I think I whacked it off the bunkbed, and was woking by the owner and his Russian yet English speaking wife for breakfast, along with a couple who were guests at the hotel. After a small breakfast – I found it had to eat very large amounts at this point, being use to snacking for almost a week now – I heading towards the toughest day I had ever had on the bike. The Stelvio Pass – which is the second highest paved road in the Alps, by like 13 metres, wasn’t the only challenge of the day, as the every increasingly bad weather made the 2 or 3 mountain 2000m passes a real challenge. With no real energy in the legs this far in and little chance to recharge the batteries, or even settle down to some food, the Ofenpass and most notably the previous Fluela Pass was beastly. Having the wind in your face didn’t help. I caught up with two other riders up the mountains and we shared a few stories over some warm food and tea in Zernez (I believe).

On the Stelvio Pass, we entered Santa Maria, me just a head of the other two with an early start from lunch. Regrettably I should have reloaded my fuel supply in the town because the 2000metre climb just keeps going. The gradient isn’t anything nasty but I bonked several times up there. Fortunately I had some generous car drivers – one group that even got food from the top and brought it back – that keep my head straight til about 1300metres from the top. I was spent and just as the clock turned 9pm I walked the last 1500metres or so, with several attempts to balance myself on the bike however the head was absolutely spinning, to the top. After a quick look for the checpoint crew – I should have come up another side of the mountain I am told, I ‘collasped’ into the mountain top hotel – mind you shared some stories with quite a few tourists at the top. Mission accomplished.

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

Day seven

I understand I had made some good time on the other riders who had just got down the mountain the night before. Unfortunately the quick descent meant that I waited until first light to go down the mountain towards Bormio. Absolutely freezing and certainly had to keep your wits about you but it was fantastic coming down right from the top of the Alps. It seems most riders went down via Meran and towards Trento…which in hindsight would have been best. At the time I was concentrating on getting down south asap. I needed to get down to Bari in Southern Italy as quickly as possible and I knew that this gamble down through the Adriatic Italian coast could make up time on the riders heading into Slovenia. Unfortunately the mountain ranges lay in such a way that you head down to Sondrio, along lake Como and as my GPS dictated up a small mountain climb around Lecco. The aim was just to get south and slowly head back Southeast as I got to the flat plains around the plain of Lombardy. As night flew, just as I had done in Southern France – it is coming back to me now – I just focused on the Garmin beeps – left, right, straight ahead. When my back bike light failed around Cremona I decided it would be stupid and dangerous to keep going on the fast roads. I arrived at a casino/whiskey tavern in the middle of nowhere and these 3 barmaids – the poor girls had no idea what to make of this figure that had just come out of the darkest – made me up a bed in the outside Gezbo. The whole trip was a collection of favours – which I am incredibly grateful for – early that night in fact I had had my back light replaced by a group of Italian guys in the pub, but unfortunately that two failed or in fact I think it got broken as I put my bike down exhausted at about midnight!!

Day eight

Phew this was a long trip. Day eight started with a bit of difficulty as I spent about 1 1/2 hours trying to wake the bar owners for what I thought was a charging GPS – the bar power socket must have been switched off as the GPS cut out a hour or two later – damn it! A mistake that at least I like to say can be easily done, well when you are manically trying to catch up to the 6-7 place guys. By this stage the winner had already gone through the finish line – machine – and it was all about a decent effort. With a unenergized GPS I headed toward the southeast city with the most road signs – Bologna. Even looking at the map, the details of the day are hazily, but after some epic lightening I hid out in a hotel about 20km outside of Bologna for 35euros – with breakfast! It was mega.

Day nine

So I admit the body was pretty beaten by this stage and I slept in til about 8am. I knew I had to stick my finger out and loaded up with a big breakfast, round after round of bread and salami, and set out for the coast road. I had aimed for Rimini the previous day and directions proved to be epically simple, with a course set via Ravenna, Cervia and Cesenatico.

Apart from a nasty hill side in Ancona, the ride down was fast and flat. I meet numerous Italian cyclists on the way down, one particular guy I called the Ferrari, with legs like tree trunks, basically like Chris Hoy. Certainly he didn’t look out of place next to the Olympic German cycling team that I had chased around Sondiro in northern Italy. I also meet a English couple near Senigallia while asking for directions at a petrol station. It was funny but I feasted on that couple of minutes of conversation after all the communication fustrastions of the last few days. Coming out of Ancona is a bit of hurdle and I am positive I went up one hill road twice – trust me as a cyclist you learn very quickly that most people know the way out of town through a highway but not something for our two wheeled hobby. As much as I was pushing for a 20+ hour cycle I knew the eyes were getting heavy now – the legs are your solid base, they aren’t the thing that fails on you! – and even with a massive pizza and double expressos in Civitanova I knew I needed just a few hours kip. By this stage I was on the busy coast road – busy with tourists mind you and a quiet spot to camp was just not an option. Plus I knew that to get to Bari in 24hours I would need to revive under a warm shower. At about Pedaso I found a campsite, who’s owner, a nice young guy who sat me down for a beer before bed in fact, let me camp inside the compound. No new blankets but at least no worry of passing traffic or drunken tourists!

Day ten

My internet access for the whole trip had been limited to some friendly bike shop owners, a few cycling teams in cafe’s with smartphones or as I hope was sent – the campsite the previous night sending emails on my behalf. Anyway, I recall at this stage I knew that the 3 riders going down Italy would be approaching Bari that day and I hoped that if I could make good time/great distance they would be caught up in the ferry terminal, and not only could I catch them if I was lucky but with the distance covered while I slept on the ferry, maybe catching up with some of the higher placed riders.

Going down to Termoli was easy, in fact I remembered cycling with a Italian Superbike Rider to Pescara. As the road bends in towards San Severo and ultimately Foggia thats when confidence gets a bit weak – after all hugging the coast for 36hours made you think this was easy. A recharged GPS that evening got me off the truck filled roads around Foggia but with no light and tackling D class roads progress was slow. These D class roads, although silent also twist and turn, taking hours to go the 50km I just pulled out in an hour & half from Lesina to Foggia – bike times and distances go out of the window a bit after this length of time on a non-stop trip with kit (at least if you are not with the leaders) but it is amazing how satisfied you get after doing a good 50km. Sad really.

I settled down for a night’s sleep under the stars, and bonus this time it was on a lovely grass blanket, its the little things.

Day Eleven

I was now aiming for a ferry whos departure time I didn’t know – after all the Italian job was an idea only a few days old – would have been nice to do SOME research before hand!

By Corato or was it Bitonto, I crawled into a small ball outside of a Lidl, trying to recharge the batteries on milkshake, flapjacks, coke, orange juice, etc etc. As good as the flexibility of ‘wild’ camping is, when you get up and do 2-3 hours of riding before breakfast, the crash is pretty awful. Finally though Bari. Job done……now a 12 hour wait damn it! I must admit, my options were zero now, I had to wait for the ferry and two pizzas and several beers & cokes into the ‘fuelling’ in the port I didn’t care. Also internet was a major priority, with a SPOT tracker that had failed in Switzerland – I am now told it was the batteries, even though I got them checked coming down the mountain in Italy – no-one knew where I was for 48hours. Some kind American tourists negiotated with probably the best hotel in Bari – Palace Hotel I recall – to let a smelly cyclist use the internet. Thank you.

Day Twelve

There was no favours on the ferry and the crew offered me only a full cabin – with 4 beds – for a full price of 110euros. I found a couch in the crowded lounge which was closely guarded by my new Albanian friend – who I thanked with beer.

We arrived into Durres at about 8am…..as I am finding out now with my trains across Eastern Europe this could be an end to my on time public transport! In the GPS it was 166miles to Thessaloniki. 3 days and I am in Istanbul I thought. The nerves were high setting out in Albania but I soon found that apart from some mad over taking coming towards me the drivers were pretty good in giving me room. I was quickly through Tirana (the capital) and into the Dajti Mountain National Park. The route on my GPS was southeast over the mountains and down into Greece. Now with a full stomach no problem. As I look at Google maps now, the roads stop at Bize…..I kept going……was a new route through Italy and Albania such a good idea I know thought? Then real trouble happened. Bike tyre got shredded 4hours up this mountain and my cleats got wrecked walking the 5hours down the other side – keep moving the right way I thought. Reaching a bar as the sky got dark I knew at least I had accommodation for the night but the bike was a problem. A hole has been ripped in the rudder and no matter how many times I changed the inner tube, it was puncture, puncture, puncture. Needed new tyre I thought. As much as I wanted to get down to Librazhd about 20km away, I was informed that to get my bike and now my cleats in order I would have to go back to Tirana. And with that it all happened in a flash I got a lift from a friendly driver in the bar and 5-6 hours later I was having dinner with his family in Tirana. Surreal.

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Day thirteen

Through the newly studied english of their daughter I informed them I had to set off early in the morning in search of an internet cafe to locate a bike shop. Even with an internet cafe found a bike shop was looking bleak but some young lad joined me from the cafe and took me on a bus through the city to find this elusive cycling mecca. With a few visits here and there and some detours for working ATM machines I found myself in a bike shop owned by an Albanian who had lived in Islington, London – even had a London accent. Very helpful guy and even with two orders for the ‘specialized’ bike cleats as I set out from Tirana at lunchtime they just wouldn’t fit in normal riding – I was push power only now. As recommended I headed south the Elbasan and Korce, stopping in a hotel just shy of the Greek border at Krystallopigi. Hard ride, as shown by all the mountain shadows on Google maps, but at least I was at Greece, maybe I could make the cut off in 48hours or at least be in touching distance.

Day fourteen

In the hot Greek sun it felt like I went over every mountain in the north. Through Krystallopigi to Kastoria was a wonderful ride, absolutely flew down the mountain passes at 40+kph average – bear warnings everywhere so you can imagine the kind of untouched scenery. The one thing on my mind was food – I really was struggling after no proper food since the late afternoon before, and once again I recuperated outside of a Lidl on the Kastoria lake peninsula. With the chuckle of some helpful direction givers (I had got used to people thinking cycling across Europe at that speed was stupid), I headed towards Kozani, making every effort to stay close to the path of the main highway through side roads or service routes. Direct line I thought. At Polimilos (coming up to Veroia) there is a monster of a hill that just keeps going – I swore I wouldn’t do anymore hills! – but the 4 road was relentless, up and up. But like every hill there is a reward and for the next 20km I sat on my pedals and flex down towards Veroia, pedalling when only essential!

And then we had Veroia. And that sandwich. I resupplied in the town, ready to take on the route to Thessaloniki and a bit further down the Greek coast. Replenished I made my way through Alexandria and into the busy Thessaloniki city – I had after all not been in a busy environment since the Italian coast – well tourist environment anyway! The plan was to keep going through the city and after a missed turn on to the ‘2’ route, keep heading east on the ’16’ towards Galatista and then back on the 2.

Day fifteen

Game over. You know you are beat when you and your body doesn’t care what race you had been in for 14 days. Ultimately I found out that I had bad food poisoning in the hospital. That morning at 5-6am I had searched out a hotel to recoup for 24hours but failing that an airforce base called an ambulance. Apparently it was pretty nasty so probably for the best! Although the worst was gone after 7 hours, I had to resign to the fact that my race was done and 48hours later I shipped my bike back to Ireland – via a very kind friend of a friend.

I now set off to Singapore on an overland train journey. Soon after I left hospital I jumped on a bus to Sofia – still in some smelly cycling clothes – then from Sofia the following night to Belgrade and now I sit in front of computer in Budapest. Right time to get myself in order for the train towards Kiev. I’ll try to get the few photos I have up asap! I will also put together an article on top tips, where you can go wrong on a trip like this and I would like to put something together on the winners/leaders races.

Ultimately this trip is more than just cycling. All the riders could do 300-350km a day, granted the 400-450-500km is tricky to say the least. Getting lost and having problems not only uses up time but knocks your confidence and uses up valuable energy – even if it ‘just’ makes you feel tired. After this trip I know I had a 12, perhaps even 11 day cycle to Istanbul in me but, and I am not trying to make excuses because ALL riders had problems and that is a fact of life about the race – it is WHY it is so challenging – I messed up quite a lot. I hope to take this knowledge on how I felt on some big rides, the determination of staying focused for 18hours or so, forward and perhaps join some cycling teams in Singapore. For now I am trying to get my weight back on and I am not going to take future plans too seriously until I reach my Asia destination – after all I will be sitting on trains and buses for 6 more weeks.

There will be new adventures though. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

Can you answer these ‘Sitting’ Sports Pub Quiz questions? i.e. cycling, rowing, sailing etc – Something a little bit light hearted; Part 2

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As promised, here’s the questions from last night. Was a great night you should have been there.

Round 1 – A melee of sitting in sports

  1. What Olympic sport is known as ‘Murder Ball’?
  2. In breaking with 183 years of its history, what will happen in the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race for the first time in 2015?
  3. Who holds the record for the most titles at the World Professional Darts Championship?
  4. In what horse riding event did GB win the Gold and the Bronze?
  5. What is the name of precision ball sport in the paraolympics which is often contested by athletes with severe physical disabilities and whos name is derived from the Latin word for boss?
  6. There are two timed runs by each team in bobsleighing competitions, how are the scores calculated?
  7. The boxer Frank Bruno, famously almost knocked who on their ass in an undisputed world heavyweight title fight in 1989?
  8. In 2012 Ron Freeman won the Condor Class in the Bognor Birdman – an event where members of the public build home-made gliders and human-powered aircraft, which can be serious or mere customers, and jump off a pier in order to ‘fly’ as far as possible. Red Bull run a similar series of flying machine events – What are they named?

Round 2: Lucky Dip

1. Which horse won the Grand National in 2012?

2. On 14 October 2012 Felix Baumgartner broke the record for altitude in a manned balloon flight, parachute jump from the highest altitude and greatest free fall velocity. To what height did Felix sit in the balloon until? A. 127,852 feet B 256, 782 feet C 65, 968 feet?

3. In 2006 Bath University researcher Ian Walker studied the space given by cars overtaking cyclists, and concluded that which one of the following is safer than wearing a helmet? – Sign on the bike saying ‘Keep  back’, cycling on pavement, using lights in daylight, wearing a wig’

4. Since 1975 what street does the Tour de France finish in?

5. You have 3 sledding sports in the Winter Olympics – the Skeleton, Bobsleigh and what else?

6. A cyclist from this country won the 2012 Olympic road race. Name the country?

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7. What event are all these people sitting around for?

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8.The Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island has a few rules. A yellow penalty card can be issued for messy eating and a disqualification can occur for ‘reversal of fortune’. What in a eating contest, does ‘reversal of fortune’ mean?

Round 3: Team GB

1. After his success at London 2012, how many Olympic gold medals does sailor Ben Ainslie now hold?

2. Sir Chris Hoy became Britain’s most successful Olympian when he claimed a six gold in which track event at the Velodrome?

3. In what sport did 7/7 bomb survivor Martine Wright represent Britain?

4. Rebecca Romero won Olympic gold in cycling in Beijing but other Olympic sport did she get a silver in 4 years earlier?

5. Which country said the Team GB cyclists had ‘Magic Wheels’?

6. What is the name of the now knighted British cycling performance director from the 2012 Olympics who has also became manager of Team Sky?

7. What year did Steve Redgrave win Sports Personality of the Year?

8. Laura Trott, British cycling’s double gold medallist, had famously what serious medical condition when she was a baby?

Round 4: Cycling  

1. It is estimated that each Tour de France finisher burns 118,000 calories by the end. That equals how many Mars Bars each day for 20 days – a). 44 b). 26  c). 18

2. How many rounds does the Omnium track event have?

3. What medals (number and colour) did the cyclist Victoria Pendleton win in the 2012 Olympics? Extra point for both discipline

4. What famous Tour de France climb did Tom Simpson die on in 1967? It was also the longest stage of the tour this year and was won by Chris Froome.

5. What was the title of the autobiographical book by Lance Armstrong after he first won the Tour de France?

6. Which 2012 Olympic cyclist took part in Strictly Come Dancing?

7. In the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) what colour is the jersey of the race leader?

8. What two famous races did the cyclist Stephen Roche win in 1987?

Round 5: Motor Racing

1. How many points do you get for winning a race in Formula One today?

2. What is the meaning of a black flag when it is waved at drivers in Formula One?

3. How many drivers must each team have at least in the 24hour race at Le Mans?

4. In what year did the last Formula One driver die in a championship race?

5. Who is the only driver to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport – the 24 hour of Le Mans, Indianapolis 500 and Formula One World Championship – and who’s son won the F1 world championship in 1996?

6. What kind of motorsport last featured in the Olympics in 1908?

7. How many world F1 titles has Michael Schumacher won?

8. The Indianapolis 500 is one of the most prestigious motor races in motorsport. It is a 500mile race on a closed speedway. How many laps do the vehicles make? A) 500 b) 1000 c) 200?

A Tour de France on your own

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With the Tour de France 100th Anniversary just completed, and Chris Froome coming out on top after some mighty and determined displays in the Alps & Pyrenees, the pub talk around me always turns to the fact – ‘Is this the hardest endurance race in the world?’.

This monster of an event, consists of 22 teams of 8-8 cyclists with an army of back-up psychologists, team doctors, masseurs, drivers, chefs and well I suppose coffee boys.  And the Tour’s ‘supply chain’ doesn’t stop there, they have team cars loaded with extra bikes – each costing between $7000-$14000 – handing out water & energy bars. They have lunch placed for riders along the route, so they can keep their head down and bash it out up the mountains. Then of course there are marshalls, route maps, markers, closed roads (no traffic, very important note!). They also have good hotel rooms…

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