There's one thing about being a middle-aged motorcyclist with big plans: at the back of the mind is a horrible nagging doubt about whether I'll be physically capable of seeing them through. I mean, let's face it: I make a noise when I get out of chairs… that kind of audible slow exhalation like someone standing on an airbed that's had the the stopper removed. I'm not 19 any more: I'll be 49 in the summer. Will I be fit enough to ride halfway round the world?
I've always understood how important it is to be bike fit: able to sit on the saddle with enough power and energy to move around as the corners demand; though obviously for the kind of high-mile touring I do, buns of steel and the bladder control of racing camel are the most important physical attributes (I'd say my tank range between toilet stops is three times most bikes' need for fuel stops – no idea if that's good, normal or even healthy). But even for this most relaxed form of motorcycling, fitness equals stamina equals extended concentration – which equals being safe, because you're less likely to make a stupid mistake at the end of a long day if you're not over-tired. So I've always tried to stay bike fit.
Still, I'm looking to spend three months on the road. I anticipate that taking a reasonable physical toll so I've been taking physical fitness a bit more seriously ever since committing to the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime. I'm not going crazy - just 40 minutes on the exercise bike and 20 minutes of weights a day (though increasing the intensity of the cycling and building up the actual weights).
Is it making a difference? Definitely - just the fact that I can lift more and cycle faster confirms that, but also I'm now in the same size jeans as when I was 30. One thing everyone who's separated from a long-term partner seems to experience is the "divorce diet", where weight just seems to drop off you – I think I lost a stone in the first fortnight. But with the exercise and by working on my diet (better portion control, far more salad) and drinking less, I've not only kept that weight off but also continued to slim down... and any man who's 48 and says he doesn't need to trim the waistline a little is either a) already going through a divorce, b) one of those marathon-running crazies who never enjoyed pudding anyway, or c) lying...
More importantly, getting a bit fitter is absolutely making a difference to my riding as well. I haven't done that many long days this winter but there's no question that the longer ones have just bounced off me. I don't get to the end of a six-hour stint in the saddle with a desperate need for a hot chocolate and a nap; I just want a fizzy water and then I'm good to get on the bike again. I feel sharper, more alert, more relaxed and just generally more plugged-in when I'm in the saddle – more in-tune with the bike than ever. It's great.
I don't know how much exercise I'll be able to do when I'm on the Big Stupid Trip of a Lifetime… but I'm not too worried. As long as I get fit enough to start it, I'm sure I'll have the stamina to see it through.