Day 2: Montgomery and El Alamein — we will stand and fight here

Bernard Montgomery was one of the great generals of WWII.   One of my favorite speeches is one he gave a few hours after arriving in Egypt to take over the British troops tasked with defending Cairo.

To understand this blog, it is worth reading the speech, which takes about 5 minutes.   British troops were demoralized and almost certain of defeat.   They had retreated through Africa and were outgunned and out maneuvered by the Nazi forces.   Montgomery represented a change in leadership.

For me, five quotes stand out:

I have only been here a few hours.  But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you.

We will then work together as a team; and together we will gain the confidence of this great Army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

I do not like the general atmosphere I find here.  It is an atmosphere of doubt, of looking back to select the next place to which to withdraw, of loss of confidence in our ability to defeat Rommel, of desperate defense measures by reserves in preparing positions in Cairo and the Delta.  All that must cease.   Let us have a new atmosphere.

We will stand and fight here.  If we can’t stay here alive, then let us stay here dead.

Now I understand that Rommel is expected to attack at any moment.  Excellent.  Let him attack.  I would sooner it didn’t come for a week, just give me time to sort things out.  If we have two weeks to prepare we will be sitting pretty; Rommel can attack as soon as he likes, after that, and I hope he does.

While I generally laud this speech as an example of excellent leadership, today I was reflecting on how many of us have our own personal El Alamein’s — an issue, a goal or a principle we have been retreating from that we need to adapt a different posture towards — one of confidence, with a new atmosphere, where we raise the stakes and commit to success.

One key battle for me has been recovering from the knee injury and getting truly fit again.   I have high blood pressure and suffer from migraines; both are symptoms of a body that is not in balance, where I’ve let the pressure of an office job take priority over keeping healthy.   So I draw inspiration from these words — to tackle these things once and for all.   While a military metaphor may not work for everyone, the stakes involved are genuinely very high.

Nutrition.   I’m having a tough time being hydrated.   Coming from Singapore I thought this was straightforward for me — our rides are hot, humid and often in the sun.   What I’ve learned is there is a big difference between 3 hours in the sun and 7 hours.   You come into a ride with a bit of a reserve, and then you can top up at the end.   Over 7 hours, the middle is just too big.   According to what I have read, the most I can absorb is a liter and a half an hour.   So after day one I didn’t have “clear pee” until the morning; after day 2 I drank 3 liters of “Jamaica (Mexican hibiscus drink)” in the first hour, then bought a liter of kefir and finished that off in hour 2, all supplemented by probably 1.5 liters of water.   This is before dinner.   I felt a lot better.

The Sun.   So far so good.   I experimented yesterday for the first time with compression sleeves over my arms, which provide SPF 50+.   Worked well.   I was afraid of being too hot, but they are white and slightly reflective, which seems to make up for the fabric over the arms.   I wear a buff (kind of a bandana) around my neck, and a lot of suntan lotion which I put on after breakfast / before riding.   I bought some zinc based suntan lotion for my little bike bag to top up at each of our SAG stops.

Day 2 summary:   67.4 miles, 860 feet of climbing; 958 feet of descent.   It was another beautiful day, not quite as hot.   We started with a relatively tough ascent out of Vallejo followed by a long winding descent and then a ride across a very agricultural valley.   My sister Kathy met me in Sacramento and helped me run a few errands — quick trip to the bike shop (I had tried to replace the brake pads and mucked it up a bit; clean the chain and change the lubricant to a wax-based lubricant); laundry, buy a few odds and ends, ship a few things home that I decided I just didn’t need).



3 thoughts on “Day 2: Montgomery and El Alamein — we will stand and fight here

  1. In my quest to enhance your playlist with music from this century, I hadn’t expected to offer two Ice Cube songs in two days. This one seemed appropriate given your ‘mucked up’ brake pads. Glad you checked them. Ice Cube “Check Yo’ Self” (before you wreck yo’ self):


  2. A galvanizing post! Optimism and determination–it’s the best of what we Americans inherited from the British. Onward, soldier.


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