Roaring to help 91 year old John tick riding a tandem off his bucket list!

91 year old John ready to tick riding a tandem off his bucket list!

91 year old John belieing his age ready to tick riding a tandem off his bucket list!

This is  a blog post that doesn’t offer many tandeming miles – but it definitely more than makes up for that with with a huge wow of a feelgood factor!

In fact I challenge anyone not to be impressed with the magnificent spirit of the star of this story – a sprightly blind Paisley pensioner called John Chapman, who clearly wants to defy the fact that his age is 91! Or as John himself likes to point out: “I’m in my 92nd year!”

John – who is an inspiration to us all – lost his sight 20 years ago but doesn’t let that stop him living every second of his life to the full.

Recently he announced he would like to turn back the clock and get back on a bike – some 30 years after his last pedalling experience! You see riding on a tandem is on John’s bucket-list and he was determined to tick it off the list!

roar-logo-webJohn regularly attends  events at a Paisley charity called Roar – Connections for Life  Roar is a provider of preventative, health and well being services for older people through the development of community opportunities that connect lives. Its Mens Group aims to allow men to keep learning and experience new things – as well as offering friendship and fellowship. It was during a brainstorming session about what activities they would like to do that John mentioned his dream of getting back on two wheels – although he admitted it seemed unlikely given his problems with his vision.

John chatting to the "old git" before the off!

John chatting to the “old git” before the off!

But Nicola Hanssen, Roar’s General Manager, had a secret plan (or at least a name in her contacts book) to make John’s dream a reality! She contacted Team Matilda to see if we would help John meet his challenge and remove an item from his bucket list!

Nicola had come into contact with the “old git” when he worked at Big Lottery Fund Scotland, which funds some of the charity’s work, and she was interested in my tandeming blog adventures and even signed up as a follower.

So Nicola got in touch with the “old git” and asked him if he would bring me to Paisley to make John’s wish come true – while also doing a chat session about tandeming to the Mens Group. The answer was an immediate yes – and that’s why on a Friday morning I was packed into Matilda Transport and we headed away from Matildas Rest in Auchterarder to the West End Community Centre in Paisley, which is Roar’s base.

Unfortunately the “old gal” couldn’t be with us due to her work commitments, but the “old git” was more than capable of looking after me! On arrival we met Nicola who explained that John was very fit for his age – but that he thought he would never again experience the sensation of cycling again.

The Mens Group started to gather for their regular afternoon meeting and Team Matilda was delighted to be introduced to John. The “old git” could see not only how smart he was, but how fit he looked. But he still cautiously asked John if he would need help in getting his leg over the saddle – only to be given a spirited retort of “not likely!”

This was obviously John’s big day – and something he had been looking forward to for a while. He was eager to enjoy every second of it, so after fitting him up with a crash helmet, and a quick chat about moving off and stopping, we were ready for the off!

John took to his role as stoker like a duck to water!

John took to his role as stoker like a duck to water!

John's confidence grew and turning was no problem!

John’s confidence grew and turning was no problem!

30 years away from a bike disappeared immediately!

30 years away from a bike disappeared immediately!

And I am delighted to report that John took to riding a tandem like a duck to water! Those 30 years away from a bike disappeared immediately as we pedalled around a nearby park. As we tandemed along John told the “old git” that it felt so good to be back on the saddle! And the huge grin on his face told everyone watching just what it meant to him.

As John’s confidence grew, I could feel him really push the pedals and he was happy to go round corners, with no balance problems! And he didn’t want to stop – as we pedalled round the circuit a few times and even along a nearby street. He was so confident he even took his hands off my handlebars to wave! Ultra cool!

John was now feeling so confident he took his hands off my handlebars to wave!

John was now feeling so confident he took his hands off my handlebars to wave!

Indeed as we stopped John was keen for more saying he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience – and that he would be happy to go for a spin round his local park any time we were in the area!

Thumbs up and happy smiles from John and the "old git" - mission accomplished!

Thumbs up and big happy smiles from John and the “old git” – mission accomplished!

John was a true superstar! And this “old lady” – who can give John 30 years – was really impressed with John’s ability to jump on and off my saddle! The “old git” said he was incredibly nimble and mounted and dismounted like a youngster! Truly John has #ScotSpirit by the bucket load!

It was truly humbling for Team Matilda to see just how much the tandem ride meant to 91 year old John. What a spirit!

It was truly humbling for Team Matilda to see just how much the tandem ride meant to John.

What was particularity nice – and really added to John’s experience – was that all his fellow members of the Mens Club were there to cheer him on and gave him a big round of applause and hearty congratulations when he finished. So it was only natural that I had to pose for a group shot!

Here I am with the Mens Group at Roar - a group full of stories and laughter.

Here I am posing with the Mens Group at Roar in Paisley – a group full of stories and laughter.

Roar’s own digital guru person was filming all my tandeming activity with John – which is usually the job of the “old gal”. And after the event Roar pulled together their own little promotional video of me, the “old git” and John – to encourage more “older” men – but clearly young in spirit! – to come along to the group. Watch the great little video here. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

In addition to the video, I couldn’t believe my luck – as a local newspaper photographer was also there to record the ride – and take pictures of me! A lovely article – entitled “Blind pensioner John Chapman, 91, is thrilled after his dream to ride a tandem comes true” appeared in the Paisley Daily Express.

My only minor disappointment of the day was that despite all her pre event bravado, Nicola somehow managed to blend into the background amid all the chaos over interviews and photos at the end – and neatly avoided her pledge  of having a shot as stoker to make comparisons with John’s ride!

Despite all her bravado Nicola somehow managed to avoid having a shot as stoker!

Despite all her bravado Nicola somehow managed to avoid having a shot as stoker!

She said she has a knack of blending into the background to avoid the spotlight – and both the “old git” and me forgot to remind her about it until it was too late! Me and the “old git” thinks that was her plan all along – but maybe another time … as I am sure she would have enjoyed the thrill of sitting on my stoker seat, even if she may not have been as fit as John!

After the excitement of the ride, the group retreated back into the West End Community Centre where the “old git” entertained the Mens Group with a chat about some of our tandeming adventures – sharing some amusing stories and showing some of our funny videos.

The "old git" doing an amusing chat about our tandeming adventures - including showing some of our funny videos.

The “old git” hosted an amusing chat for the Mens Group about our tandeming adventures.

The question and answer session was great fun, with most of the men keen to hear about the mechanical side of tandeming. Indeed after the chat many of them took pleasure in examining me in close details to see exactly how I function!

At the end of the session, the “old git” was delighted to be presented with a bottle of artisan Loch Fyne gin as a thank you – which was much appreciated. how they knew he likes gin beats me! As we took our farewell the lovely people at Roar promised that I would feature on their own blog – complete with even more photos of me! – on their own blog site. And what a lovely blog it is – well worth a read!

As a seasoned (old!) hack, it would need to be said that the “old git” knew that John’s tandem ride was a great media story. And it was therefore no surprise to my Captain that – as a result of the newspaper article – the story was picked up by the telebox – with STV seeking to do a feature on their Live at 5 show, which bills itself as Scotland’s biggest daily magazine show bringing you the best local chat, stories, music, cooking and features from across the country.

Unfortunately due to work commitments, the “old git” couldn’t make it to the studios – which meant I couldn’t go either! But they more than made do with John and Nicola, who didn’t disappoint!

John and Nicola waiting for their interview slot - taking it all in their stride!

John and Nicola waiting for their interview slot – taking it all in their stride!

That’s despite the fact that I am reliably told that John and Nicola were both a  teeny bit hassled getting there on time – running a red light after getting caught in a tailback on the motorway getting to the STV studios in Glasgow – before getting soaked in a rain storm while parking! That left the pair a little nervous while waiting in the “green room” but when the red light went on and the show started, the pair took it all in their stride and were media professionals!

And I am delighted to say that I am now even more famous after my sleek frame appeared on television as the Live at 5 team showed footage of this “old lady” – with the “old git” and John on board – from Roar’s own video!

Click on the pic of the studio interview below (or click here) to watch the feature on the Live at 5 show – and don’t forget to look out for my big appearance! I am such a poseur you know! (Remember again that if you are on email, click onto the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

stv-live5-presenters-and-john-niocola-in-studio-shot

As you will have seen on the extract from the show, John was tv gold! He showed off his acute sense of humour and had the presenters laughing away at his answers. Meanwhile Nicola took all the questions in her stride about the charity – showing she was a tv natural!

John and Nicola on Live at 5 - both tv naturals!

John and Nicola on Live at 5 – both tv naturals!

So all in all a wonderful experience – and Team Matilda was delighted to have been able to help John’s dream come true and tick riding a tandem off his bucket list at the age of 91! Let’s just hope that I will still be tandeming around Scotland with my dynamic crew at that age – if we are all still well oiled!

This was the first part of a busy weekend for Team Matilda as we then headed off for an overnight stay to Strathyre to take in the final part of the cultural outside art #BLiSStrail, the brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, Look out for that blog soon!

But a final message to Roar and John – thanks for having us! Team Matilda was delighted to be able to help John tick riding a tandem off his bucket list! It was truly inspirational and humbling.

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New year blaw at freezing moody Loch Rannoch

The sun trying to break through as we headed for Kinloch Rannoch on the north side of the loch.

The sun made fleetingly rare appearances as we tandemed round the beautiful Loch Rannoch.

After a busy festive period, the “old git” and the “old gal” decided on a tandem ride to blow away the cobwebs – and decided on a New Year trip to the wilderness beauty spot of Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire. This is one of Team Matilda’s favourite places to tandem and the idea was to get some “brain food” to kick off the New Year and set the standards for some spectacular rides.

And for my dynamic duo, there was the added attraction of the ride allowing them to complete their prized “boxed set” of tandeming the loop around Loch Rannoch in four different seasons in a calendar year. You see we had already completed a tour in Spring,, Summer and Autumn. So just the winter circumnavigation to go!

But what the “old git” had perhaps overlooked in his natural unbridled enthusiasm to complete the challenge was that while Loch Rannoch is a stunning area and can provide an amazing backdrop – it can be cold in Winter! “That’s bleeping cold” the “old gal” has just clarified!

To be honest it was still officially freezing on the thermometer reading on Matilda Transport as we headed up the A9, turning off just after Pitlochry for Tummel Bridge. Given that is was January 2 we knew nothing would be open and had to drive past our normal coffee stop at the Queen’s View visitor centre – run by Forestry Commission Scotland as it was closed.

But my crew were able to fuel up on some coffee and home made shortbread – which the “old gal” had wisely decided to bring with us – when we parked in Kinloch Rannoch where we decided to start our loop from today, rather than our normal start point of Bridge of Gaur at the bottom of the loch.

With the thermometer just moving into positive territory – that’s 1C! – my dynamic crew pulled on their multiple layers of clothing, including thermals, fleeces, cycling jackets, winter weather gloves and even insulating skull caps for under their crash helmets!  Then we headed off on our usual clockwise direction, which saw us cross the bridge and tandem firstly down the quieter south side of the loch. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full data and statistics! 

any-strava-l-rannoch

Lets just say that even with all that winter clothing – it was still extremely cold! In fact even the “old git conceded that it was pretty grim as we headed away from Kinloch Rannoch to be blasted by a fairly fierce wind blowing off the loch which never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the road.

With over 22 miles ahead, it did seem a tad adventurous, perhaps even a bit foolhardy – but a challenge is a challenge… and the “old git” reminded the “old gal” that they would soon reach the protection of the woodlands. It would need to be said that at this point relations between my dyanamic crew were somewhat frosty – a bit like the weather! And the “old git” didn’t really help things get any more convivial when he suggested to the “old gal” that she should be happy as she was getting the added treat of a free facial from the wind and the sleet as we tandemed along!

I felt mutiny in the air – or was it snow – but amazingly we all pedalled on and survived the bracing first mile or so before we got into our stride. The wilderness factor of the area is underlined as the narrow road – complete with passing places – winds its way into the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland.

It certainly lives up to its Forestry Commission billing as “a living growing monument with some trees thought to be about 400 years old, and is home to a wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including deer, pine martens and red squirrel.” It is little wonder that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation and was looking magnificent in all its moody Winter splendour. And today it had the added appeal of giving some protection from the elements.

After about 7 or 8 miles the forecast sun did make a fleeting appearance which lifted the spirits of my team somewhat. The “old gal” was so filled with enthusiasm that she even whipped her phone out to take “shadow” shots just to prove the sun did in fact decide to come out – albeit sporadically!

A moody "shadow" shot of Team Matilda - just to prove the sun did actually come out to say hello!

A moody “shadow” shot of Team Matilda – just to prove the sun did actually come out to say hello!

There was even time for a quick stop at a recognised viewpoint which gives a great vista all the way back up the loch – which combined with a much needed “wild” loo stop and the “old gal” singing the praises of her Shewee!

The "old git|" and the "old gal" forcing a smile to show they were having fun despite the cold!

The “old git|” and the “old gal” forcing a smile to show they were having fun despite the cold!

On we pedalled battling against the wind and that double hill towards the end of the south side stretch. Given the cold temperature it was perhaps no surprise my dynamic crew decided not to stop at the halfway point at the bottom of the loch for their planned alfresco cremant picnic at Bridge of Gaur – and instead we decided to head back up the north side back to Kinloch Rannoch.

The difference in tandeming conditions as we headed in the opposite direction was immediately noticeable – it was much calmer as any wind was now behind us … and the sun came out again, allowing more “shadow” fun with the camera!

Another "shadow" shot on the way up the north side of the loch while we took in the scenic beauty of the area.

Another “shadow” shot on the north side of the loch while we took in the scenic beauty of the area.

The "old gal" basking in the sunshine - well freezing in the fleeting sunshine to be exact!

The “old gal” basking in the sunshine – well freezing in the fleeting sunshine to be exact!

We tandemed on – with my crew close to “hitting the wall” as they found themselves running on empty – after the decision to delay the picnic till our return to Matilda Transport. However a quick gorge on a couple of small “emergency” bars of chocolate was enough to refuel my crew to carry on!

The original plan was to have a quick halt at a regular stop off point on the north side – at a wild camping area about two-thirds of the way up the loch – which usually offers a perfect opportunity for pictures with the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – in the background.

The only snag was that with the mist and snow which was falling on the mountains – as you will see from the photo below – Schiehallion had completely disappeared. Or as the “old gal” quipped: “Maybe it decided to go somewhere warm like the Canary Islands for a sunshine holiday … like we should have done!” And you know what … and yes I know you will find this difficult to believe … I don’t think she was joking! But I am sure they would take me along for some warm weather training!

Where's Schiehallion gone? No sign of the conical mountain top this time!

Where’s Schiehallion gone? No sign of the conical mountain top this time in the Winter mist!

It was the first time in the four different seasons of visits to Loch Rannoch that the mountain hadn’t dominated the skyline. So this “old lady” blogging tandem decided to look back at my previous Musings to remind my faithful readers what Schiehallion looked like in each of the other three seasons.

It's behind you! Despite the light Spring snow, the "old gal" had no problem seeing Schiehallion.

It’s behind you! Despite the light Spring snow, the “old gal” had no problem seeing Schiehallion.

Schiehallion showing its majesty in Summer with Team Bluebird on Le Tour de Perthshire.

Schiehallion showing its majesty in Summer – with Team Bluebird on Le Tour de Perthshire.

Schiehallion in bright Autum sunshine with Gillian and Craig

Bright Autumn sunshine to see Schiehallion – with solo cyclist friends Gillian and Craig.

Apart from the cold weather conditions, another big difference for our Winter loop was the height of the water in the loch. Looking back at the photos you will see a pebble beach – but this was completely under water for our trip this time! And amazingly the “old gal” didn’t jump at the chance when the “old git” joked: “Ok first in the water gets an extra big gin!” She did however mutter something under her breath – but this is a family blog and it can’t be repeated here!

The majesty of me - at the empty wild camping site! Imagine Schiehallion in the backdrop!

The majesty of me – at the empty wild camping site! Imagine Schiehallion in the backdrop!

The “old git” – who clearly isn’t wired up properly – asked the “old gal” why the wild camping site was totally empty only to be told in no uncertain terms this was because it was freezing! However it did allow me the opportunity of a picture to show off my majestic lines since Schiehallion was hiding!

Then it was time for the “old git’s” well thought out plan to record an “on location” New Year message – offering a cremant toast to offer best wishes for 2017 to readers of my blog and fellow tandemers everywhere. He had come up with a script and great ideas to use his new fancy phone with his new tripod device and Bluetooth gizmo to film an epic which would then be edited together into an Oscar winning film! But the fact that my dynamic crew were feeling less than dynamic and distinctly chilled meant that it was a one-take (less than) wonder! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

It certainly wasn’t a Steven Spielberg production  – and it was so cold that the “old git” didn’t even have time to open the bottle of fizz! Job done my crew – fairly well chilled to the marrow by now – got back on the saddles and covered the last couple of  miles to Kinloch Rannoch in double quick time.

To defrost the “old gal” and the “old git” jumped in to the comfort of Matilda Transport – immediately switching on the heating system and enjoying a reviving cup of warm coffee. After a few minutes they were able to enjoy their picnic lunch – indoors not outdoors obviously! – while having a look at Strava which officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of  22.7 miles with a total moving time of  2 hours 27 minutes, at an average speed of 9.3 mph. And my dynamic crew showed they still had good fitness levels by recording no less than 7 Strava gongs – which given the freezing temperature was really quite an impressive performance from my crew!

Total elapsed time was just 2 hours 50 minutes due to not hanging about during the photo and video shoot! Top speed was a not too shabby 27.5 mph and the elevation covered was 389 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1,211 calories to help wipe out some of the festive excesses, and produced an estimated average power output of 123 W.

Just one complaint to the local tourism people at Rannoch and Tummel – there were lots of people about as it was the day after New Year’s Day – but nowhere was open.  Not exactly offering tourists a warm welcome ….. surely it wouldn’t have been too difficult for somewhere to open for a few hours?

As we headed home to Matildas Rest – the exercise endorphins had fortunately started to kick in – with all three of us agreeing that – even allowing for the somewhat cold temperatures – that it had still been a worthwhile ride in a spectacular area. There was even time for some self congratulation of achieving the four loops in four different seasons. Even if the “old gal” was saying that the next time she wanted to do it in t-shirt weather!

So as a reminder of much warmer wilderness tandeming – here’s a picture from our warm summer loop of the toast that we had planned …. Cheers! And all the best for 2017!

Memories of Summer! Prosecco with an Irn-Bru chaser!

Warm memories – prosecco with an Irn-Bru chaser!