How Triathcheat Started

You know when your entire life falls apart and you lash out in strange directions? That's what I did in January.

Some time between Christmas and New Year, possibly motivated by a lot of cheese and a certain amount of Port, I decided to set myself some challenges. 

So I signed up for a half marathon. What I originally thought about signing up for was an ultra-marathon, possibly the Liverpool-Leeds Canal 130 miler (because I know people in both Liverpool and Leeds who would provide beds and showers, which seemed practical) or the Robin Hood 100 in Sherwood Forest (because the reviews said it was a flat and good "beginner" ultramarathon). But they both seemed quite boring, lots of nothing but road and tow path (I know what you're thinking: Really, the 130 mile Liverpool Leeds Canal Race featured a lot of tow path? Tell me more about the strange and unique way you see the world) if I'm going to be running I don't want to be pounding away on concrete alongside a perfectly good bus. Also I hadn't drunk that much that I was hallucinating I could actually go from Couch-to-100 miles in 9 months or less, if I had drunk that much I probably wouldn't be able to type well enough to fill in the entry form

I was reading lots of blogs about trail runners and when I looked I found the Hardmoors White Horse  Marathon. Which sounded like fun, but was only in April and since I didn't want to go for the no guts no glory approach that leads to heart attacks and early knee replacements I decided to book a place on the half marathon course. 

April seemed very soon though and I wanted something to carry me forward and to look forward to in the year.

I considered booking a holiday or planning that sort of adventure, but given everything that happened last year I fancied being a bit more of a homebird in 2017.

So I signed up for a 100 mile bike race. The Liverpool-Chester-Liverpool race has been going for years decades and it lets you cycle through the Queensway Tunnel, which seems like an excellent thing to say you've done. That was my thing to look forward to then, not until July- half a year away.

Then I did something I maybe should have done before signing up for the White Horse half marathon, I went for a run. I googled it and worked out a slightly odd route from home to a nearby church and back again was 5k. Put on some trainers, set the timer on my phone, filled my head with thoughts of how all that cheese and port meant I was a well stocked larder of potential energy just waiting to burst out.

Reader, I suffered.

I'm smiling, but if you look into my eyes I'm wondering what I'm doing.

I did it, in 37.47 minutes and with a lot of groaning, followed by lying on the floor and contemplating how maybe cheese isn't the greatest base for a food pyramid. But I'd done it, in an amount of time I don't think is terrible for someone who never scraped above a C- in PE and has spent a great deal of time devoted to building a life that doesn't necessitate moving any faster than typing speed unless being carried.

I kept running, being outside and seeing the year come to life was a nice way to spend my time, but realised in February that a half marathon in April was never going to happen, plus drunk Joy had not considered how I was supposed to get to a muddy field in the middle of North Yorkshire for 8.30 on a Sunday morning, so I emailed the organisers and let them know if anyone else wanted a place they could have mine as due to "unforeseen circumstances" (trans: I didn't think this through) I wouldn't be able to make it.


So then I was really glad I had my 100 mile bike ride because  I know I am pretty sure I can do that, I have cycled over 50 miles in one go many times before and regularly cycle 20-odd miles for funzies. But it was niggling that I hadn't done the running, especially since I carried on going for runs and discovered (believe me no one was more surprised) that I didn't hate it. 

Endorphins. Runners' High. They exist. Like actually, it's not just a mass delusion or total lie that crazy people who spend too much money on trainers use to justify their craziness.

Still got the crazy eyes, but now it's a better sort of crazy.
I looked around and found the Scott Snowdonia Trail Marathon which wasn't until the end of July, it was sold out, but a quick poke around online turned up a nice lady who had a place she didn't want on the half marathon. 

Perfect! Start the month with a long cycle ride, end it on a run. One month of exercise and adventure and pushing my limits.

Except I started following Sean Conway on Twitter who's into the ultra-triathalon adventures around the coast of Great Britain, so my brain voiced the fact that cycling and running are two thirds of a Triathlon and I had all that empty time in the middle of July where I wasn't doing anything. Again, I turned to my dear friend Google. Turned out in the middle of July there's an open water swim event in the Lake District...

I've Possibly Gone Entirely Mad

It's London Marathon Day, I am watching the incredible scenes of humanity triumphing over despair and selfishness and nipple chaffing, and I am jumping on the bandwagon!

This year, in July, for reasons I'll go into another time, I am going to complete a Triathlon (sort of).

I will be cycling 100 miles from Liverpool to Chester and back again. I am going to the Lake District to swim 1 mile around Derwent Water. Finally, I shall be staggering running 13.1 miles around Snowdon. (Memo to self: take note of all those active, affirmative, doing words. Think positive, get it done)

Technically I think you're supposed to do all three in the same afternoon for it to actually be a triathlon, but that's how the professionals do it and I'm not even a competent amateur (to date 10k is the furthest I've run and I actually can't remember the last time I went swimming as opposed to "let's go splash in the water"). 

I can't really call myself a budding triathlete since spreading them out over an entire month feels like cheating, I'm more a triathcheat you might say (#triathcheat is now my thing since y'know #branding).

Last year was awful, 2016 wasn't a great one for many people but mine was truly shocking and it left me stuck in a limbo of not knowing what I even wanted to work towards. Eventually I decided to try and heal my soul by improving my body: going outside made me happy, exercise helped me sleep and having a goal gives me a reason to keep doing it. 

Fitness is a different kind of adventure for me, seeing how far I can push myself rather than how far I can go on a plane, but I'm trying to live the idea that adventure is a mindset.

Travelling With Too Much Baggage

My name is Joy, and I am a dreadful overpacker. I think the scales at the airport, like credit cards, show a target not a limit.

I will take too many shoes, I will bring big bottles of shampoo instead of decanting it into those stupid travel bottles, I will take 5 "just in case" gadgets, and a spare. 

My bag is the big blue one, his was much smaller and he still found room to take my stuff that wouldn't fit. Whoops!


The worst thing? I don't mind. I have always done it and it doesn't really matter to me, my general rule of thumb is if I can't carry my bag myself then I cut stuff. If I can carry it, screw it.

There are things you wish I could leave behind, there are things I don't pack but I lug around with me anyway. I have depression, sometimes I struggle with anxiety, and I wish these were problems that went away at the airport but they don't. It's difficult enough when you're at home and can't face the prospect of opening the bedroom door to start the day, when you're supposed to on a once in a lifetime trip and find yourself wishing you weren't because you don't deserve it.

Depression lies, and the lies it tells live inside your head, they don't go away just because you take your head somewhere else. They don't go away just because you take up running or cycling or paragliding even though the endorphins do helps. They don't go away just because you go and see a doctor and collect a prescription for SSRIs that you can add to your over weight bag.

I don't know what cures depression, I don't know if I think it can be cured. I know that I have good days and bad, as well as days or weeks that are even worse. I wish fixing my mental health was as simple as booking a ticket to somewhere new, but it's not.


Adventure Shot
There are tricks I've picked up from travelling with depression that do help when I come home, if I'm busy, if I have a packed itinerary and know what I want to see or do then it's easier to get moving in the morning. I have to get out of bed because I want to make it to the Louvre before the queues get completely out of hand and I can't see the Venus de Milo for the selfie sticks. There are places at home that we think we know so well because we've walked past them a thousand times, when we go somewhere new we try to soak up every detail- do that at home, look up and all around and see the things you've only glanced at. 

Adventure Shot
Adventure is a state of mind, anyone who thinks they can't have an adventure just outside their own front door is doing it wrong (and should check out Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys). Yes, the sunsets I watched in Pammukale and the moon coming out over the Atlas mountains are burned into my memory, but I can see breath taking sunsets on my way home from work as well.

STILL an Adventure Shot.


If I can't carry it then I'll unpack something but we can't always do that. What we can do is share the load, right now I would love to be saving up for my next big adventure (I'm torn between setting my heart on Kyrgyzstan or doing some winter mountaineering up in Scotland) but instead I'm prioritising my metal health and seeing a private counsellor. It is helping, and in the mean time I'm enjoying what's on the doorstep, where there's no need to worry about baggage scales.


Traveller's Guilt - The People We Leave Behind

Travelling is a great way to meet new people. To find friends you never would have connected with otherwise. It makes you more open minded, more willing to try stuff out. It lets you see the world. But it comes at a price.

None of us can be in two places at once, and by the time you've caught the travel bug there will be days you want to be in five or fifty places at once.


In Asia there's a myth that says the gods tie a red string around two people who are destined to meet and fall in love, this red string of fate will always eventually bring them together no matter the distances that separate them or the time it takes eventually they will fall in love with one another. The string can be stretched out as they move further apart and it can get tangled up, as all lives do, but it will never break and it will never let go of them.


Sometimes I feel like every place I travel to, every friend I make, they get a new heart string looped around them and it doesn't matter how long it's been since I was there or how far away from each other we are now that string stays in place. Every now and again something happens to pull on it and I wish I was there and I wish I was with them. 

It might be wonderful, like they announce a new life milestone- I'm just getting to that point where it's purely exciting and not weird when my friends announce engagements or pregnancies. Alternatively, it could be something really awful- terrorist attacks and car crashes have featured heavily in the past month.

Life goes on when we're out adventuring, and in the same way we're not necessarily the same people we were when we left, things might happen while we're gone that mean home isn't the same place either.





I spent 5 months this year living on a ship, sailing through the rivers of Europe, and thinking about how I could be happy spending my life like that. Then the season ended and I came home, and I found out my dad has cancer.

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The Blue Town In The Mountains

When locals asked where else we were planning to visit in Morocco they'd nod politely at our list Meknes, Fez, Chefchauen, Tangier.

"Chefchauen? Ahhh." 

There would be nods and knowing smiles, and then the universal hand signal of a pinched finger and thumb being raised to pursed lips as the gesturer inhales. It got old pretty quickly, especially when our insistence that we weren't visiting with the intention of getting stoned out of our eyeballs was met with sheer disbelief. At one point I was informed visiting Chefchauen and not getting high is like going to Amsterdam and not trying a spliff, what else is there to do?



The attitude wasn't entirely unexplainable, Chefchauen is in the heart of the Rif Mountains and smack bang in the middle of the cannabis growing capital of North Africa. At some point one of Morocco's kings (depending on who's telling the story it was King Mohammad V, Sultan Moulay Hassen or King Moulay II) granted Chefchauen permission to grow and sell cannabis, as the Moroccan Royal family trace their ancestry directly back to the Prophet their permission is not only gilt edged but a holy law which  cannot be revoked. So although marijuana is technically illegal to grow, sell or smoke in Chefchauen saying that it is tolerated is an understatement.

Trees or weed? Anyone's guess.



*Let's all bear in mind I'm not a solicitor, have no expertise in international or Moroccan or any kind of law and I'm only talking about my own experiences in which I was offered weed every time I spoke to anyone and observed a cloud of fumes around every hostel in the city. If you go, get stoned, get arrested and end up in a squalid Moroccan jail on drug related offences don't come crying to me*

I've said all this because everything we read about Chefchauen mentioned cannabis stimulated the local economy, but as an afterthought. In Morocco it is not an afterthought you say "Chefchauen" and they think "stoner". Which isn't why we were visiting at all, the current Mr Harpy is asthmatic and I hardly even drink, if it had been pitched to us as a weed capital we'd have probably avoided it and missed out on a great time in the mountains. In a recent conversation I used the phrase "tabs of E" which led my cousin to remark my parents had clearly done part of their job right.





To get there you have to take a CTM bus through the mountains, if you're prone to travel sickness you will not enjoy this journey but the destination is worth it. Everyone was friendly, the entire place was laid back and relaxed (gee, I wonder why?) we had some great food, went on some wonderful hikes and bought some beautiful wool jumpers, and found Morocco's best beauty shop. The only fly in the ointment was how the natural amphitheatre shape of the valley amplified the calls to prayer from the mosques, particularly the 4am call. It did force us out of bed while the sun was still down and let us star gaze though. Also I'm not sure how much of a problem this would be if you just picked a hostel (and there are plenty to choose from) that was not right next door to a mosque.




The current Mr Harpy hated me for bringing this dress, he saw it as the blatent red symbol of my sinful over-packing. I don't care, this picture was worth it. I do want to add that I did have a jacket on the rest of the day, since covered shoulders are considered more respectful in Morocco. I took it off to grab some pictures in empty streets, and probably wouldn't have felt out of place leaving it off- we saw plenty of girls in shorts and vest tops- it was a personal decision to cover up and one that was motivated just as much because I'm a pale ginger with freckles who doesn't want skin cancer as much as because I was in a predominatly Muslim country.






We never did get a straight answer about why the village was painted blue, perhaps to reflect how close it is to the sky or maybe symbolic of the waterfall they built it next to, in the end it doesn't really matter I'm just glad they did.


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Boppard

- Going Around The Bend -

I love Boppard, I loved most of the places we sailed to, but arriving at Boppard made me smile evry time. Boppard is a small town in the Rhine Gorge, the Rhine Gorge being the most dramatic part to sail through with ruggard cliffs, rapids, and fairytale castles. So whenever we go to Boppard I'm already having a good day because the moving pictures outside the windows are good to look at.

Boppard is on a bend in the river and that made it very complicated to park at, so we'd make noises about how clever the Captain was being today to do such a good job. I've no real idea how accurate that is, having never sailed a ship nor attempted to park it on the bend of a river, but bigging up the Captain was an important side line of my job.

There are other things to talk about, the promenade is flower festooned (I know I've already said that, but I read in a guide book and it made me giggle and now I can't thinking of Boppard any other way), there's a year round Christmas shop, and a chair lift. What I didn't realise until  I rode the chair lift to the top was that Boppard isn't on just any bend, it's on the bend.an absolutely shocking hairpin bend that looks exactly like one of the illustrations from my GCSE geography text book detailing how an Oxbow lake is formed.

The chair lift is magnificent, with the river on your right walk along the promenade until you start to see signs for the "Sessellift", it carries you up over some vineyards and then onto a forest trail, then it just keeps going. Do not take this ride if you're in a rush- chairlifts aren't exactly known for being high adreneline rides but this one takes nearly 25 minutes to go one way.



If for whatever reason you don't want to look down, don't worry you've got views either side that made me wish my chair came with a pause button so I could just float there and enjoy them for longer.



When you get to the top, you have walk off into the woods- there is a sort of path and a very small sign in German- and find the pub. From there you have the clear views of the actually giant loop itself.


Obligatory selfie.


You can walk or mountain bike down. I suppose theoretically you could even get up that way, but why would you when someone's gone to the trouble of installing a perfectly good chairlift? I did spot this pair who it took me a while to realise weren't just incredibly safety concious...



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Speyer Cathedral

Speyer is a bit odd. It's a tiny little city, less than 50,000 people live there and not a lot happens so it's surprising to find this huge, magnificent cathedral completly dominating the entire place. But in a place that literally means "Spires" I suppose you have to expect a bit of church architecture...



It's huge. Just look at all those tiny little people at the bottom. And it's a beautiful golden sandstone, with details highlighted by gold tiles, so when it catches the evening light it just glows.

#NoFilter

It's a completely otherworldly structure to have existing in the 21st century and I can't get past the idea of how it must have just blown the minds of folk in 1061 when it was first consecreted. The cellar crypt is the final resting place of 8 German kings and I totally get why they wanted to be part of the foundations. It really is the size of a football stadium, and I had someone try to complain within earshot on one visit that it was a bit plain, but it's not. They lacked imagination, and that's not just my C of E roots predisposing me towards minimalism in churches, this is a magestic Cathedral that imposes itself absolutely on the region and dominates the entire town.  Speyer was a place that needed a decent cathedral, it set the scene, and helped to make the town a centre of religious controversy in the Middle Ages. 

Medieval Europe was a Christian place, which means it was a Roman Catholic place and unless you've been living on the moon fort he past millenia then you know with great power, comes great responsibility and the Roman Catholic church hasn't always lived up to Spiderman's example. A lot of the general unhappiness with how the world was run by the Roman Catholic church led to some spiritual revolutions. (I can feel the bodies of a million religious studies students turning in their graves at that summary, but as I understand it you get the gist) You had the Roman Catholic church telling everyone how to live their lives or face an eternity in damnation, and rather convienetly the best way to live your life involved giving the church plenty of money. Now there were plenty of people who didn't like this arrangement, but one man in particular kicked up a fuss: Martin Luther.

Marty boy was so against the idea that you could buy a get out of hellfire free pass to commit a sin he wrote out 95 reasons why it went against biblical teachings and literally nailed it to the doors of the church in Wittenburg. When that happened shit hit the fan, to use the vernicular. Martin was excommunicated, but it was too late- his ideas had spread and the public wanted to know why it was that money, and not prayer or repentance, was required to have sins forgiven. It was a cans of worms that couldn't be contained,  and before too long people took to the streets in protest. They protested in Speyer, and they became known as Protestants.



But back to the Cathedral....

It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1981 because it's such a damn fine example of Romanesque architecture. My favourite thing that it has are the doors, and I know nothing about them. I can't tell you who the artist was, when they were put in place, all I know is I love them.

They depict biblical scenes in handy instagram shaped panels and are looked over by Jesus with some sheep. 





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