Today was a good day. Although the generators kicked in at 04.00, and the dodgy event coverage and video feed that lives inside the bivouac area started very shortly afterward, I had a good old snooze well past 07.00. Total luxury.
My sleeping arrangement is the result of a lot of forethought, planning and good old experience. It’s a regime though. No caffeine post 15.00 (this is easy as there’s not yet been a coffee shop in the desert) A good thick Thermarest mat, a matching ‘camp cot’ (the ‘bow’ spar type) (not a Thermarest sponsorship plug, but definitely a recommendation if you’re in the market here). Added to this is a woolly hat, to keep the head warm, a free issue aeroplane eyemask and some Bose QC sound cancelling headphones, set to turn off after 40 mins, so that once I’ve nodded off and rolled over/they’ve fallen off they’re usually off anyway.
Added to this I’m using a more glamping type sleeping bag. I’ve loads of ‘proper’ sleeping bags for cold, or lightweight or adventuring, but I like to spread and move my legs a bit after riding, so I’ve essentially got a zip-up duvet. It’s high cotton content cover and is a total luxury. It’s the poshest one that Decathlon do, but still pretty cheap and I can’t recommend it enough if weight or size is irrelevant. You’d never get it on your GS (some of you might have a go to be fair…) but for this application it’s perfect. We tested it on our French alps trip – me, the wife and the dogs. Well, the wife and the dogs. I didn’t get a look in, but that’s my own fault for not getting the van camper-ized before we left for our anniversary holiday and ended up sleeping in an uninsulated panel van…
I’m trying to get to bed as early as possible, and I’m monitoring my heart rate in my sleep with a watch. The night I got rubbish sleep (pre stage 6) I could see my resting heart rate was up in the 60’s, rather than the 50’s, suggesting I was either getting ill or woken up, and I knew the latter to be the case. It helps me. It helped my head know I was feeling rubbish because I was tired, rather than me taking myself out of the game by starting to think I was flagging. Your own head is your biggest enemy. Mine is for sure.
On that note the general sentiment within the paddock has been one of preservation. Everyone is pleased to be here at the halfway point. We’re grateful. I don’t know whether the attrition rate is higher this year or not, but being so close to it, it certainly feels that way. I doubt it is. The level of riding is right up there. As I’ve mentioned I’d had some numbers I’d have liked to have achieved here, but I’m happy for a finish first. That’s not a finish in first. You get my drift.
They’ve suggested it gets tough from here, and the talk of the empty quarter is all bad. I’m hoping it’s on account of Saudi just being huge (it’s four times the size of France) and that the empty quarter is just a bit far away from anywhere else really, like ports and rivers. No need to fill it… We’ve been in ‘grade three’ dunes already, and they’re big – they take full gas and commitment, and I’m happy enough in them. Quite like them in fact – they’re easier on the body as it’s a lot like skiing off piste. The rocks and tracks are more punishing. Until you don’t get up a dune face, and then you’re digging and humping. Too much commitment and your probably launching into a long drop before a hard landing and shortly after a ride in a helicopter. It’s a balance! It’s fun though. If you manage to link one dune face to the next and the next you feel a million dollars. I’ve found myself saying thank you to dunes more than once for the ride – weird eh!
I’ve learned this bike is a winners’ bike too. It’s honed for the big boys, and they generally don’t ride in the ruts of trucks and 90 other riders. It is a goddess in virgin sand, and a handful in the smashed up mess of other people’s lines. Either be winning, or canny with your line choice then. Guess which one I’m going with here…
I’m feeling healthy and the body is still mostly good. Time off the bike currently is spent worrying about what could be wrong with the bike, and talking to people about not crashing.
I’ve got a little blister on my hand and a slightly stiff neck. I’ve got some energy still in the bag, and I need to eat on stage and keep looking after myself, as if it does get harder I’ll need the reserves. It’s difficult to plan a strategy for the unknown, so I’ll just aim to have fun, and just keep swimming.