Wednesday, 20 August 2014

competitive edge

I’m not by nature a competitive person, unlike my wife. In the 1980s, Paula fenced in the men’s competitions because there wasn’t enough challenge in the ladies’. And I can still remember being whacked by her several times when I inadvertently got in her way during a game of squash. For readers who’ve never played this game, the usual practice is to call a ‘let’ and replay the point.

And then there was the first time I took her rock climbing, when she complained that the climbs I was taking her on weren’t hard enough. As I quickly found out, she likes to push herself physically; she welcomes a challenge. And I’ve been doing my utmost to provide that challenge ever since.

About six years ago, Paula decided to change the gears on her bike while I was in the UK, and she kept trying to persuade me to do the same, but I resisted on the grounds that my existing gears were adequate for my purpose. I remember warning her that if I were to change, she would regret it. And that is how things worked out. My existing six-gear system started to malfunction, and I replaced it with a nine-gear system. But the three extra gears were all higher than top gear on my old system, and as a result I was able to go much faster on flat, open sections of road. Paula struggled to keep up.

However, she finally had an opportunity to retaliate earlier this year. Riding an ordinary bike over extremely rough ground has resulted in soreness around my elbows, so Paula offered to buy me a mountain bike. She’d seen one in a bike shop in Sheung Shui, so off we went to check it out.

It isn’t obvious in the photo below, but the tyres are about 5cm wide, even though Paula claims that because the surface that contacts the ground is slightly convex, the nominal width is a mere 2.2cm. However, I don’t buy this deception, which I regard as a blatant attempt to slow me down!

My new mountain bike. I’ve since changed to a more comfortable saddle.

Nevertheless, I’ve been able to do the journey to the west a couple of times with the new bike, although I didn’t get the gear sequence right on the climb over Saddle Pass the first time, which made it harder than it needed to be. We’ve even done the ‘grand tour’ once, which adds the long and winding road and the frontier road to the journey to the west, while I’ve been on the new bike. I’ve  succeeded on the hill a couple of times too! On the other hand, I’ve yet to do Liu Pok Hill, which is an optional add-on to the frontier road, on the new bike.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be making this admission publicly, but as we approached the top of the climb away from the frontier area, I let Paula choose whether to take the easy way or to turn right to the village of Liu Pok and the gruelling category 1 hill beyond, confident that she would be too tired to take the harder option. The fact that I would be too tired too isn’t relevant, apart from being able to shirk responsibility for the decision.

Anyway, Paula is in the UK for a couple of weeks, and we’ve been doing a 32km route through the countryside almost every day. This may seem rather a short distance, but being on the eastern fringe of the Lake District, the route does include several long hills. And it is short enough that it can be repeated day after day without any intervening rest days.

I’ll conclude this account with a photo of Paula that I took a few hours ago. It was taken on a fast (i.e., slightly downhill) section through Greystoke Forest. After cresting a short rise, a panorama of the northern Pennines opens up to the east of the road. Meanwhile, I’m saying nothing about what I have in mind for the coming winter in Hong Kong, but it will involve extending the grand tour to 120km, and I will get around to doing Liu Pok Hill, despite those 5cm tyres.

Paula: “The most scenic part of the route.”

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