Project Snail (aka my own Yellow Brick road)

yellow brick road pic

Heart, Brains, Courage – we all know the story of the Wizard of Oz and the mystical journey to find something whatever that maybe and most of us are on that road somewhere looking for whatever it is that we seek even if we don’t know what it is.  I’ve been thinking a bit about my own journey where it’s taken me so far and where it might lead and what I might need to find in myself.

Now I’m not one for New Year Resolutions (or even any form of planning basically) I’m very happy with the philosophy that I wrote about last year via Oliver Burkeman’s column looking at Happiness which is pretty much how I try and go about things, I don’t always succeed of course but rather than have lots of lists of things I’m happy to bumble along with this vague approach to it all.

happiness has a mixture of causes; that it involves trial and error, and broadly chimes with common sense; that there isn’t a single secret or quick fix, waiting to be uncovered, and that looking for one might make you miserable. The advice is straightforward. Remember to be grateful. Spend your money on experiences, not objects. Volunteer. Nurture your relationships. Spend time in nature. Make sure you encounter new people and places. And never assume that you know what will make you happy.

Some of this sounds like familiar folk wisdom, and some of it like a string of corny clichés. But it’s worth considering, surely, that this might be because it is true.

Having said that one of the things that makes me happy in my life (most of the time anyway) is riding my bike, particularly when I’m riding it off road somewhere and for sometime I’ve been thinking about how I can be better at it so that I can enjoy it even more than I do.  I also really fancy having a go at cyclocross racing next winter so with those two ideas in mind I’m trying to hatch a plan to do both of those things which is essentially Project Snail (after all I am the Snail from South Wales).  There are of course a few things that stand in my way of achieving that (let’s leave money, new bikes and time out of the equation for the moment) and consider my Yellow Brick Road.

Brains – sort of OK on that one, Heart – yep good to go, Courage – hmmm now we could be talking.  Courage is an interesting thing and I’ve found it comes in many guises.  Without going into things I’ve had a very tough few years that would test any person and Courage, particularly emotional courage has been required in spades.  I’m now beginning to emerge from the darkness and can only see good things ahead (Project Snail here we come) but physical courage (and a different sort of mental courage) is a different beast and I need to find some of it.  When I ride, I am I have to admit it, often scared, basically of crashing badly.  I can’t afford significant time off work and have children to look after which is tricky when you break things (and I’ve broken bones and cracked ribs both from cycling and football) so I know what it’s like.  Speed also frightens me, I think due to a major crash I had barreling down a very steep hill on my road bike when I was a kid, which miraculously left me remarkably intact but scared the bejeebers out of me.  Didn’t think so at the time but I think those mental scars run deep.  Height also freaks me out for reasons that I don’t understand as I’ve got good balance and height never bothered me when I was younger but now on a bike in particular if I’m riding and there is a drop to one side I can’t see anything other than the drop or trying to ride anything raised again nightmare.  So what to do? plod on as I am or attempt to improve.  Not sure what I can do about the courage/mental thing but one thing I think linked to it is skill.  My skill levels are not great and I think the more I can improve them, and ride with better people who are prepared to indulge the Snail the better I will get the more my confidence will rise.

The final thing I need after Skill and Courage is Fitness.  I’m slowly getting there as I think I could feel on my pre and post Christmas rides but there is undoubtedly much more I could do.  Now I’m not going to give up beer wine and cheese (although I might reduce them a tad) as after all I’m trying to have more fun here but diet is something I can look at and I could also potentially build in some more exercise (not sure what at the moment or when I could fit it in) but I’m also not starting from scratch.  I do after all cycle to work as often as I can (which is about 6.5-7 miles each way, with the way back being about 3 miles uphill at an average of 11%).  I have a bike (my battered old hardtail) and realise that ideally, if I can somehow finance it then I want a replacement mountain bike (what to go for – stick with hardtail, go to full susser ?, what’s best for Yorkshire conditions?) and a Cross bike that’s going to have to be good enough to race on but also will double up as a commuter and of course at some point I’d like to sort out a road bike again. Hey you’ve got to have dreams right.

So that’s it – simple, my Yellow Brick Road – Fitness, Skill, Courage.

I’ve taken the first step on the skill level today by booking myself onto some courses with the mighty Bearded one Ed Oxley at Great Rock starting at the beginning but hoping to use Ed throughout the year to build up my skills (he might not fancy this after he’s seen me ride of course).  The Snail and the Beard, reckon Julia Donaldson should be illustrating the story don’t you.  I’ll report back throughout the year on Project Snail and definitely in a couple of weeks after my first dabble at some training.  In the meantime any advice that anyone has got that could contribute to Project Snail would be greatly appreciated – bike skills, setup (flats v spds etc), mental approaches, fitness, diet, bikes, routes etc I’d love to hear from you.  Also I’d like to ride with different people and in different areas (you’d need to be patient) so again if you fancy joining me for a ride that would be great as well.

In the meantime this man is going to look to improve the Snail, oh and he also reviews bikes by reading Hunter S Thompson – I like the cut of his jib

<p><a href=”″>Spring</a&gt; from <a href=””>Ed Oxley</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


<p><a href=”″>Me and my bike</a> from <a href=””>Ed Oxley</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>