Well don’t think I’m trying not to learn

I didn’t want to go for a training ride today.  I just wanted to go for a ride.  So I did.  Nothing out of the ordinary or exceptional.  Sometimes it’s just about riding the bike, right?  Under a blanket of grey cloud, I made it up as I went along.  I took a couple of turnings I’ve always wondered about.  I even managed to get lost.  Well, lost might be pushing it, since I doubt there’s actually a road around here I haven’t been down at least once, even if I don’t remember it, and every way always joins up with some way you do know.  But I was definitely on roads less traveled, though no longer the roads not taken.  I rode out, and I rode back.  And as I turned my new key in my new lock, and then closed my door behind me, the rain started.  Result :)

Cycling time: 2:01
Distance: 32.6 miles
Avg: 16.1 mph
ODO: 6999 miles

PS: told you Dunkery Beacon was hard ;)

Beacon be hard!


Exmoor Beast 2014

You’d think by now I’d have stopped being nervous about sportives wouldn’t you?  And if you’d asked me why I was nervous, I’d have been hard pushed to tell you really.  I think maybe, after Thursday’s somewhat disastrous ride, I was just worried that there wasn’t going to be enough in the tank to make it around, let alone up the hills I knew were ahead of me.  Presumably worrying about such things, and the usual “will the alarm clock go off, will I miss it” subconscious stuff, would be why I also failed to get a decent night’s sleep beforehand – even after two days of eating properly and getting an early night…

Still, this is nothing new, right?  I finally gave up trying to sleep, after the nth time of waking up and having to check the time to see if it was even worth trying to go back to sleep, and was up at 5:00am.  OK, so it was pitch black, but unlike earlier in the night, at least it wasn’t raining!  In fact the forecast for the day was pretty good, however many times I refreshed the screen, which is far for the norm when it comes to the Exmoor Beast.

Yes, time for the Exmoor Beast again.  It wasn’t my idea, honest!  But having done it last year and enjoyed it more than I thought I would, it wasn’t a bad idea.  In theory.  Months ago!  This morning however, it felt hideously early, and rather intimidating, and all in all, who’s idea was this?!  I must be mad…but then we all knew that ;)

registration toilet queue

Having sorted all my kit out the night before, including faffing options for eventualities, there wasn’t much to do other than kit up, eat cereal, and then load the bike and bags into the car when Chris duly arrived at 6:00am.  Being nervous, I probably wasn’t the most chatty of passengers on the way down, which those who have had to put up with me being irritatingly perky in similar circumstances, might well envy ;)  But it didn’t take long to get there…certainly not long enough for me to fall asleep again, and we arrived at HQ in Tiverton without a hitch, to be marshalled by men waving glowsticks to one of the pockets of parking around the place – in our case the tennis courts.  The official start time wasn’t until 8:00am, an hour later this year, so we had plenty of time to go and register, find and queue for the toilets, get ready, and drink coffee.  The sun kept going up, the skies brightened, and even I might have cheered up a bit ;)

rider briefing

But there was no putting it off any longer, it was time to go and do that queueing in pens thing.  A later start is/was a good thing.  No worrying about lights, no groping around in the dark, and more importantly when, after the rider briefing, our pen was set off a little after 8:00am, we could see where we were going!  However…on the downside…it meant I could see where I was going! ;) I don’t remember much of the early part of last year’s ride as I was too busy trying to cope with the unfamiliarity of riding in the dark, following flashing lights, avoiding other barely-seen riders, and so on…  This time I saw, and felt, every hill!  I knew I would feel rubbish to start with, I always do, and as predicted I did.  My breathing was off on one and I just couldn’t seem to catch my breath, which is not ideal when slogging your way uphill.  It took me 45 minutes, as usual, to warm up, and in the meantime on a couple of those early big hills, my lungs and core muscles and the effort being made all combined to make me feel like I was turning myself inside out!  Not pleasant…but once we got to the top of one of them around an hour in and I stashed my gilet and head scarf I felt much cooler and much better.  I really don’t like over-heating!

tandem co-ordinated climbing

All that said, it was nice out there.  Not (yet) too windy, dry overhead, fairly mild.  The roads were damp and covered in crap though, so I was little more careful on some of the downhills than usual, especially since I was still on the summer bike, wheels, and tyres!  Although there were allegedly around 1500 riders out there, it didn’t feel too busy in the country lanes, and there were slightly better manners than at some events, so I rarely got railroaded without notice, which was nice.  So we bimbled along in my usual style, and the miles and hills passed, as did today’s guest of honour Jonathan Tiernan-Locke from time to time, making it all look easy of course.  There was plenty of up, but I’m much better with long hills than short, providing they’re not too steep of course, and they were feeling ok.  Being currently a drug-free zone it’s clear that some of those were affecting things and that now they aren’t.  Not that I’m any faster up the darn things, they just feel different.  And if that doesn’t make sense, tough ;)

its a sign playing with traffic in Dunster

After much general climbing up and hurtling down the moors, there was a fantastic descent into Dunster, which it’s fair to say I nailed.  Oh, and enjoyed immensely.  Me and my bike are very good at that :)  In fact, having swooshed past a great many, and then all the way up one up bit in the middle, when three of the guys I’d passed caught me up, which no doubt their egos insisted upon, I was congratulated on my “good effort” *grin*.  After playing with very tolerant traffic in Dunster, we arrived at the very-well stocked food stop.  Everything from soup to rolls and flapjacks and of course energy drink, water and bananas!  I topped up my bottles, queued briefly for one of the portable toilets, and passed on the food – no need to mess up my insides since they were feeling ok.  It felt nice to take a bit of a break in the sunshine, chat, and enjoy the fact that half the ride was behind us…

food stop goodies shooting the breeze

…which of course, means half of it was ahead, and that half included the biggest challenge of the day – Dunkery Beacon! *gulp*  We set off again, heading for the inevitable, along the main road through and past Minehead that is a bit busy and full of nasty draggy upwards bits – I never enjoy that stretch of road, and today was no exception.  In fact, even with flapjack and a gel on board, that dragging made me realise I was feeling pretty tired.  And pretty worried.  I know Dunkery Beacon, and it’s no walk in the National Park!  Well, unless you have to walk up it of course, and that’s probably pretty hard work too ;)

Exmoor here we come

After the relief of a bit of down, we turned left and started the trundle through the country lanes that gradually lead up to where the climb proper starts.  Riders kept going past me but hey, if they were in that much of a rush to get there, more power to them.  I was conserving energy and trying to think positively and gird my loins for the struggle ahead!  A bit of me was thinking I’d also rather have ‘em all ahead of me, out of the way, and not weaving backwards and forwards around me…

starting the Beacon Beacon be hard!

So, here we go.  Another left turn, slowly going up already, and over the dreaded, but matted, cattle grid, heart in mouth…  As the slog through the damp woods began, and I slowly ground my way up, I have to admit to having wondered about walking, whether today would be the day I would again, whether I’d have to, whether that would be such a bad thing…but not yet, right?

Make the wheels go around.  One pedal stroke after the next.  Avoid the horse-chestnut cases and leaves and twigs, pass the walkers, zig-zag a bit, keep the front wheel down, push, push, push…  At least my lungs were working now, and so were my legs, for however long that might be the case.  Steeper bits, even steeper bits, flatter bits, steeper bits…and then that bit in the middle which could be the top but isn’t, because it’s only half way; your chance to have a drink, regroup slightly and then, yes, start all over again.  The forest drops behind you, the road climbs up into moorland, the views open up, but they’re behind you, and you’re too busy concentrating on the road ahead anyway, which stretches into the distance, with every diminishing spots of colourful lycra leading the way.  On and on and on…but just that little bit less steep that it was down there, and so yes, it’s hard, but you keep going, you don’t get off, you just hit that mental zone where all you do is keep the wheels turning.  Up this bit.  Round the bend.  Up the next bit.  One stretch of tarmac at a time.  And as long as the wheels are turning you’re going up, however slowly, while the race snakes hurtle pass you, you pass the “pedestrians” and take heart from that, the inevitable photographers lurk and you do your best to smile, before returning to that gurning place inside where you are mentally and you push some more and then…you know what…?  The world has opened up around you, you’ve reached the sky, and it’s all behind you.  I did it.  Again.  I have absolutely no idea how I made it up really.  I just did :)

riders behind sunshine ahead Exmoor view

Now there’s an awesome feeling for you :)  Which probably explains why I was grinning when we passed a familiar friendly face shortly afterwards – Gaz and his camera were there to capture the moment – which was all the more reason to smile.

smiling after Dunkery Beacon windy up top

No time to hang around though – having done all that up, there was some down to be enjoying.  I always look forward to downs, but it was so windy up on the top there that I was looking forward to getting down to some shelter more!  Such fun though… :D  It wasn’t the last up, there were a few more to drag myself up, but I now knew that the back of the Beast was broken and, on past experience, that the last 20 or so miles are just a long run down the valley back to Tiverton.  Which was, with the exception of a couple of kickers, fairly flat and fast and fair flying , especially as I spent most of it sat on on Chris’ wheel – not having quite enough energy left in me to spend as much time on the front as I would have liked.  This was probably not helped by the fact that we had to fight that headwind all the way back!  I struggled a bit from time to time, but there were some down bits to enjoy as well as the flat, and we hopped from group to group, and generally had a reasonable approximation of a blast most of the way back to Tiverton.  And then there we were, back at HQ, rolling past the timing machines, and into the hall.

on the way home Exmoor Beast glass

As a small child presented us with our souvenir Exmoor Beast tankards, the tannoy, in the capable hands of Ron (of Dartmoor Classic fame), announced our arrival, complete with a whole spiel about me being the Cycling Mayor and Cyclosport writer…busted!  You can ride, but you can’t hide ;)  We went around outside as instructed, stashed the bikes, and went back in to fill those tankards with the eponymous ale, before having a chat with Ron and others while getting our times.  It was great to have the opportunity to catch up – it’s nice to do events and bump into people you know – one advantage of doing so many of the darn things!  Oh, and that beer was pretty good too, especially enjoyed sat outside in the sunshine and the after-glow :)

Exmoor Beast – done.  Again. Annoyingly, it turns out to have been a bit slower than last year, but I think I actually enjoyed it more?  Which is more important.  I had a pretty good ride, in good company, I didn’t feel like an invalid, and I don’t feel like I was outstandingly slow.  I’m pretty pleased with how it went.  Make that really pleased.  You know what?  I had a really good day out :D

Cycling time: 4:56
Distance: 66.3 miles
Avg: 13.2 mph
ODO: 6966.4 miles

Update: Of the 520 100km riders, I was 285th. Of the 58 women amongst them, I was 19th. I’m pretty pleased with that :)

And I was only half an hour slower than Mr Tiernan-Locke…who must have stopped off for a cream tea at some point… ;)


I’m relatively twisted

I think it’s fair to say that food and I don’t really get on.  Which is probably why I don’t have much of an appetite these days.  Well, since what I do eat rarely remains where it ought to for long, I can’t usually be bothered with the consequences!  I’ve also been on a bit of a health kick/diet lately, which means I’ve been eating even less than usual.  Which seems like a good idea until you then go out and ride the bike for a couple of hours, having omitted breakfast as well, and wipe yourself out for the rest of the day.  Oops…

burnham with george

It was only a couple of hours out with George, running her errands, and chatting…but it got harder and harder to keep up and keep talking and by the time I got in, I was totally spaced, had as much energy and co-ordination as a newborn kitten, and I didn’t get it together again until mid-afternoon.  But hey, at least I got to go to the beach, right? :)  Still, it would appear that if I want to survive this Sunday’s Exmoor Beast, I had better spend the next couple of days eating healthy carby stuff in reasonable quantities!

Cycling time: 2:23
Distance: 34.6 miles
Avg: 14.5 mph
ODO: 6900.1 miles

In the meantime, my plans for 2015 advance slowly, and I am mad excited, because next March I’m going on a Wheels in Wheels training camp for a week in Andalusia.  How cool is that?!  Hope springs eternal…*fingers crossed*.


I wanna take a ride, I wanna kiss the sky

And this weekend I have done both.  Seven of the magnificent ACG did a route that was unsurprisingly unchallenging yesterday morning, as it was devised by yours truly for a ride I didn’t do on Wednesday!  Well, it seemed a shame to waste the effort involved in mapping it out, in the absence of better suggestions.  It was pretty good, as it happens: good weather, good riding, good company, and good coffee at Rich’s.  Thanks to Mike, Chris L, Chris G, Dave, Alan and Rob for joining me :)

cider farm me from above

And for part two?  Today I went and jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane again, with a friend who I made first time around; we sort of egged each other into it!  So we went back together, where separately neither of us might have done.  And we did it again.  Twice! *grin*.  It may well not be the last time either…well, I’m a perfectionist, I want to do it better ;)

 IMG_20141012_091733_edit IMG_20141012_135707

So this weekend, as you can see, I rode, I kissed another piece of sky, and both made me smile.  Can’t be bad :)

Cycling time: 2:12
Distance: 35.2 miles
Avg: 16.0 mph
ODO: 6865.5 miles


The ghosts of my life, blew wilder than the wind

Yesterday was the annual Cyclosport industry bash.  It was, as ever, quite a laugh, though my liver may well be less than amused ;)  I got to catch up with friends I’ve not seen in ages, got some very constructive networking done, and of course indulge my new celebrity cyclist stalking hobby…

…so, roll up, roll up, here’s the latest selfie selection: Mike Cotty, Matt Stephens, Yanto Barker, Dean Downing, Russ Downing, and my mate Peter, of Tour of Pembrokeshire fame.  Hey, it gave me something to do!  Thanks for being so tolerant guys :)

Mike Cotty Matt Stephens Yanto Barker

Dean Downing  Russ Downing Peter Walker

OK, so they’re all more or less famous, but to me, Mike Cotty is a legend.  He’s been inspiring me since I got his Etape-preview DVD back in 2011, to help me get my head around what I was going to do.  We’ve talked on Twitter (not that he remembers, as he talks to so many people!) – he gave me advice on other events to try, advice for the Maratona – and I’ve used his DVDs for that and Quebrantahuesos too.  He crossed the French Alps non-stop last year, and this year he cycled over 1,000km and 21 mountains from Conegliano, Italy, to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France, in something like 50 hours.  Non-stop.  Mental!  We had quite a long chat, about cycling and various related stuff, and he’s just as nice in person.  Meeting him totally made my day :D

And in the meantime my plans for next year may now include a proper training plan, and a training camp in Andalusia, amongst other things.  How cool would that be?  Fingers crossed…I have a few dreams I’d like to make reality :)


So I will stand in the rain until I am clean

IMG_20141003_125738

I did not want to go for a ride yesterday morning.  Oh no.  Not having been woken up by the predicted torrential rain outside, and with my bike all nice and clean and oiled and everything.  If it had just been me, I’d have bailed.  I still considered bailing.  Seriously considered.  But since four others had signed up for joining me, and I’m a conscientious soul, I didn’t.  And neither did two of them.  Since it was still seriously raining when we three met in the Square, we decided just to head straight for coffee at Sweets.  A Sweets that was full of other very wet cyclists, including a contingent of the Tor 2000 lot, and three of the Brent Knoll branch of the ACG.  Lots of familiar faces then, and plenty of friendly banter as we all waited for coffee, cake, etc…yep, service was as ever, with a smile but somewhat slow.

As we sat there, getting colder, with water pooling a little embarrassingly beneath every one of us, the weather outside got better.  By the time we left, en masse, the rain had stopped so rather than taking the fastest way back home, we took the long route together with the BK Velo three and couple of others.  It was nice to have the extra company, and the wheels to hide behind as the wind got up, though keeping up was hard work!  It was oddly amusing though, as the ACG is more known for losing riders en route than for going forth and multiplying… ;)  They all peeled off eventually to make their way to their homes, leaving us original musketeers to head for ours a little more slowly.  Of course by the time we got back, the weather was proper brightening up and the rest of the day turned out to be glorious!

Cycling time: 1:35
Distance: 25 miles
Avg: 15.7 mph
ODO: 6830.3 miles

But hey, it turned out to be a fairly good ride, a far better one than looked likely at the start.  Even if I did get soaked.  Even wearing my waterproof.  Yes, I did actually wear it.  I do learn, it just takes me a while ;)  It was a good call as that and the base layer I opted for, in addition to the usual layers, meant I stayed warm enough.  See – it’s back to that time of year, layers are once more the answer.  And Rule 9 rules again.  I think I’ll be saving my new sunglasses for next year…

IMG_20141003_125116

 


Our house, in the middle of our street

Today, finally, after days of looking at bikes and not being on one, I got to ride my bike.  Which is good, because my head was off on one this morning, and there’s no better cure for that than a decent ride and some outdoor head space.

For some reason I had been going to go and do hill repeats up Cheddar Gorge.  And then I realised that such things are incompatible with my notoriously low boredom threshold.  But for some strange reason hills still beckoned, so I had to plot a route that involved a variety of ups to endure, downs to enjoy, and enough miles to make it all worth doing.  Mentally figuring that out was way more effective than counting sheep last night!

I’m still recovering from the weekend, and thus sleeping a lot, so it wasn’t an early start this morning, but it was my first day off in what feels like forever so I had the time to do both recovering and riding.  After a quick route plot on mapmyride this morning just to make sure I’d got things roughly right, I headed off late morning, and did just what I’d said I would.  I went up – Cheddar Gorge, Blagdon Hill, Rowberrow.  And I totally nailed some downs – Harptree, Burrington, Shipham – *grin*.

14 percent

It went pretty well.  Maybe even surprisingly so.  OK, so some of it was hard work, but then that’s the point.  Some of it hurt, literally, but since I’m mostly a pain-free zone at the moment, you won’t hear me complaining too much about that.  And the downs were awesome.  Me and the bike felt very in tune throughout – though my poor baby is making some “I am in need of maintenance” noises and I think the saddle position and height need adjusting…  And it may not have been sunny, but although it tried to rain, it failed.  Good for my body, good for my head.  It was therefore, as they say, all good.  Happy Days :)

And then I had another long nap to recover.  In our house, in the middle of our street :)

Cycling time: 2:20
Distance: 34.3 miles
Avg: 14.6 mph
ODO: 6805.3 miles


Cycleshow 2014

wheel of fortune

Were you at Cycleshow?  I was.  For all four days, working for Andrew with the team on the Kalas Sportswear Ltd stand.  And if you were there, and you heard a loud voice enticing you to “Fill in a form, spin the wheel, win a prize…“, then that would have been me.  The ‘shouty lady’.  Which would be why I now have no voice…!  But it was a lot of fun – I just wish we’d had more forms and more prizes and could have done it non-stop all day every day.  Even so we gave away 2500 prizes!  Still, as you may be aware, I have a pretty low boredom threshold…I’d far rather be busy, even if it hurts :)

still busy

But since I wasn’t always busy, I did have some time here and there to wander around.  I saw some bikes I might like…if I didn’t love mine so much.  I even saw the one I might even get to test…though I’ll not be holding my breath Graham! ;)

new Cinelli  van nicholas test campagnolo bike

I saw some famous bikes, and also a great many very lovely machines that were way out of my league, not to mention over any budget I’m ever likely to have…

famous bike bianchi speed machine

I discovered the “switch camera” button on my phone, and took far too many selfies…sorry!

found the selfie button sharps to help me recover nuun to keep me going

I drank astounding amounts of coffee and Nuun, without which I’d never have made it through, and as recovery goes, there was no better place to chill out after a long day than the Sharp’s Beach Bar…

Best of all, I got to hang out with Andrew, Anna, Josh and the Czech posse, I met up with old friends and met new people, and I saw, and even met, some famous cyclists…

me and ivan basso me and magnus backstedt chris hoy me and roger hammond me and ottilie quince me and jens voight me and alex dowsett

It was a very tiring, but pretty cool, few days.  I had a lot of fun.  The après show antics were a blast too *grin*.  My feet still hurt, and as I said, my voice has gone…but, given a similar interactive job to do on a stand, I’d cheerfully do it again.  I surprised myself by actually enjoying the whole playing with the public thing, and the dream team (Anna and I) impressed one of the other stall holders so much, there’s the possibility that more such work may come out of it.  More work is always good…since let’s face it, I need the money these days…so maybe I should add “booth bunny” to my CV?  ;)  See you at Cycleshow 2015! :D

PS: after four days surrounded by bikes, I can’t wait to ride mine…once I’ve recovered that is!


This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top

camel

Well I know how the camel got his hump, though I’m not sure how he got two, but to tie things together, with a little, maybe even a lot, of artistic license, since my last mini-epic, I have ridden twice.  Neither of them in the Pyrenees, which is where you’ll find the camel.  See?  It all makes sense now, right? ;)  Mind you I’m not sure you can have a mini-epic; that’s probably somewhat of a misnomer, a contradiction in terms, or even an oxymoron.  However it’s just possible I’m getting a little side-tracked here, nest-ce pas?  Maybe I should get this show back on the road.  Or maybe it’s actually a three-ring circus? ;)

new tools

Firstly I proved that I can reassemble my bike all by myself without it falling apart en-route afterwards, on a sociable sunny Sunday coffee run with some of the ACG.  Good to know, right?  And a perfect excuse for buying more tools ;)

Cycling time: 1:52
Distance: 29.8 miles
Avg: 15.9 mph

And today I proved that although there was not as much in the legs as I would have liked, they can still just about go up hills.  I did beat my PB on the “Down the Gorge” segment though *grin*.  I now have to go back and knock 3 seconds off that to make me the only kind of QOM I ever am ;)  Mind you, Strava seems to be increasingly inaccurate these days, it’s convinced I took a very strange way up past the Webbington and I really didn’t, so maybe I won’t bother.

Cycling time: 1:44
Distance: 25.8 miles
Avg: 14.7 mph
ODO: 6771 miles

On that note, I think I shall make like the camel, and quit while I’m behind.  Well, actually the cow-like critter, which might be a Brahman, is behind…but you get the picture ;)

quit


Everywhere and eternally, the distance shines bright and blue

In the beginning there was a bike in a box, and at the end likewise, and in between there is much to write of, to show, and maybe even after all that, conclusions to be drawn.  If patience is not one of your virtues, I suggest you skip to the end, as this may take some time…

And so the ACG trip to the Pyrenees begins…in the Hotel Kyriad in Toulouse.  The hordes have gathered, mostly, our number but one short as we (Guy, Jon, Trevor, Dave, Chris and myself) head out to dinner at L’Entr’acte – presumably the interval between the journey and the trip real?  A good time was had by all.  Much, possibly too much, wine was consumed, along with grilled meat that possibly wasn’t grilled enough…

But come the morning, after-effects were as yet unheard of, and we were joined by Steve in time for The Magnificent Seven to be collected by Chris from Pyractif and shuttled to our base in Bertrens.  A Friday as it happens, though days of the week soon ceased to have any meaning…

leaving Bertren

Welcome to The Pyrenees.  Where the sun was shining, and the first order of the day was bike assembly.  Which, with somewhat less assistance than usual, I mostly managed to do by myself. Enough assistance however to ensure that the job, having been worth doing, had been done well, and as we set out for our first ride, all was well with the world.  Well, apart from when the world went up, as ever.  Out there, on quiet roads with the sun shining, I mostly held my own however, right up until the coffee stop at a village on top of an up where, as if laid on for us, the local cyclists were doing some kind of time trial race…

Col d'Ares time trial traditional rehydration

Lycra, lycra everywhere…with espresso and Orangina to drink, as per tradition.  Very nice :)  As we left, they may have been hurtling off at speed every 5 minutes, but since the next part of the ride was the Col des Ares, I think you are safe in presuming that I was not.  Not a big Col, more of a nice bimble up through the woods, with Guy kindly keeping me company and letting me witter on in my usual fashion, while the others waited for me at the top, in their usual fashion.  I actually quite enjoyed it all, especially the down afterwards, quelle surprise, but deep down, something was stirring, and the further we rode the worse I started to feel inside.  And no, I don’t mean my usual worrying about my comparative form self-indulgent rubbish, I mean actual physical stuff.  Oh dear…

…yep.  It would appear that I should give up eating.  Another bout of gastro-enteritis was heading my way.  Be it resurgence of the last one or a brand new variety, I was due for a sleepless night, stomach cramps and worse…

P1010618 P1010622

So Day Two did not go according to plan.  Whilst the others heading off to do Cols beginning with the letter P, I did not.  I got up, drank coffee, and went straight back to bed, where I ended up sleeping the entire morning away.  Well, if that’s what the body needed, best it were given it.  Still, having finally left the land of nod, and with the sun shining outside, I decided I would go and visit the bastide town of St Bertrand de Comminges, as suggested the night before when it had become clear that my way and their’s were to part ways.  It’s only just down the road you see, so duly kitted up, and with map in pocket, I figured I’d head out, see how I felt, and take it from there.  Which I did.  And very pretty it all was too, although walking on the cobbles around the cathedral in cleats proved an interesting challenge, and re-enforced my belief that Paris-Roubaix is not for me.  Since I was feeling relatively ok, thanks to the immodium now keeping a lid on life, and meaning that the cramping/gurgling was all I had to deal with, I carried on and ended up doing a nice little, though inevitably slow, flat loop, which was good for my head, and probably also my legs.  Ok, so there were no Cols to boast of, but there were some to come in the days ahead that I really wanted to do, so it was a case of rest today to live to ride another one.

FBTourmalet

Which brings us to the next one, Day 3, the one that really mattered to me.  Now I’m sure Col ticking is a daft hobby, and luckily my list of those to cross off is a fairly short one, but the Tourmalet was on it.  And now it isn’t.  Now I’d have preferred not to have done it in the pouring rain, to be honest, but there was something oddly amusing and English about slowly meandering up a mountain in the rain, with sheep, and cows and Guy for company.  Company for which I was very grateful, as it took an awfully long time, and I could have hit the slough of despond very easily otherwise.  Steve, having had a coffee break somewhere en route, ended up with us near the top too, which made the last few km practically sociable, and gave everyone else time to have lunch and warm up in the cafe at the top ;)  I knew it would take me hours, I knew I would feel rubbish and I frequently did, but I also knew I would make it, because I wanted to, and I’m fairly stubborn that way.  (No comments please, practice some restraint).  And I made it.  Greeted at the top by cameras and smiling faces, I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself :)

IMG_1797_edit Col du Tourmalet

It didn’t take long for wet through but warm to become wet through and freezing though, and after a hot chocolate and orangina and a bit of enforced food, I ended up in quite possibly the most bizarre ensemble ever.  Good thing we had a support car with us – otherwise my options would have been non-existent.  I wound up in Guy’s spare base layer, my Rapha t-shirt, my hoodie and a gilet!  The sun may have been coming out, but it was still only 5C up there, and I didn’t want to risk not enjoying the downhill I’d just earned, right?  And it was fun.  SO much fun.  As we descended the skies brightened, the roads dried, and the grin grew.  The Cheshire Cat would have had nothing on me ;)

P1010662
I’m afraid I cheated, and took an uplift to the top of the Col d’Aspin, while the others did the hard work in the sunshine.  Chris, our support crew, seemed a little worried about the time schedule, and I knew how much I was holding everyone back, so it seemed only fair, and possibly also wise considering my insides.  I was still freezing sitting in the van waiting at the top for everyone else, and really should have stripped the odd layer off – being the wrong layers they were holding in the cold not warming me up!  But once that was done, as we gathered and prepared to go down again, I did finally warm up, and man, the down was, yet again, an absolute blast.  I even managed to stay with the group as we hurtled off for coffee and then raced for home – fast flat and sunny.  Now that I can do – my legs work just fine unless there’s a gradient :D

So what next?  Day 4 of course, which came with a change of base camp as we decamped to a very friendly little hotel in Lorp-Senteraille, outside St-Girons.  Once again, it was a route that for most included many Cols, but what was to be just the one for me.  I’d decided that all things considered, I was probably a one Col a day girl!  I joined the others for the outward leg, through the very scenic Ariège region, and to coffee at the bottom of the Col d’Agnes.  Though I set off before them, not before enough, and before long they were all well ahead of me, leaving me to pootle up as usual.  Though the early sections were long and wooded and grindy and a bit tedious, once it opened up into switchbacks and sunshine and stunning views, it was lovely.  I wasn’t far from the top when Chris came down, enjoying the bends, to escort me to the café on the other side of the summit where the others had gathered, presumably bored of the usual waiting for me, for which one can hardly blame them.

Col d'Agnes P1010708

We sat outside in the sunshine for a reluctantly served lunch, though I stuck to fluids – as it seemed safer that way, and my Cols for the day were done, unlike them.  All too soon we were off again and after a truly fabulous descent to Massat, they were off to do battle again.  Me?  I had the most gorgeous (sorry) ride back in the sun, down the pretty gorge cut by the river Arac. The river was flowing loudly along with me on the right, there was dappled shade from the trees and rocks, and even a few nearly scary little unlit tunnels, but they didn’t stop singing from time to time as I went.  Yes, singing.  There was a song in my heart and I just couldn’t keep it in I guess.  Well, if you’re happy and you know it…and clapping your hands is unwise when riding ;)

P1010746 P1010762

And so to the final day which, by my reckoning, makes it Day 5.  Also known as Wednesday. Today’s aim was to ride from St Girons back to our original base at Bertren with, as ever, a great many Cols en route.  Well, for some anyway.  This time I made my break for the hills early, all of ten minutes down the road.  They headed off to take the high road, and I took the low road.  Man, I had such a lovely day out.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do precisely, but I had a map, my legs, my music, and wall to wall sunshine.  Was there to be one Col in my future, or two?  I put off worrying about such things as I cycled along through countless pretty villages, admired roman ruins and churches, played leap frog with the local postie in his yellow van, and was cheered on by random pensioners.  After a tedious re-surfaced section, the road climbed in a sort of gradual fashion out of the valley, towards hills, through trees…but I didn’t realise I was on the actual Col de Porte D’Aspet until I saw the 3km to go sign!  Presumably also a sign I was on the mend ;)  OK, so it got steeper and wigglier after that but I figured if I was going that well, then today was going to be my first two Col day.  Well, it’s not like I had anything else to be doing, right?

church P1010743

Having made it up, I took the obligatory photos at the top, drank the can of orangina that had been weighing my pocket down, and hurtled off down t’other side, a descent which didn’t last half long enough. No sooner had I taken the obligatory photo of the memorial to Fabio Casartelli than I was turning left and a sign was informing me that I was now on the 11.1km, 7% average, Col de Menté.  Goody goody.  And I actually mean that.  Just for once, you cannot detect a hint of sarcasm ;)  As I started up, a whole fleet of classic Austin Healeys screamed down and round the bends past me, in a evocative cloud of motor oil.  I waved, they waved, it was all jolly good fun.  As the dust settled, I was left on my own again, pootling along roads that seemed at first relatively flat, followed by a reasonable down bit…all the time with my head busily working out what, if the average was 7%, that was doing to the gradients to come!

P1010750 P1010770

But it really didn’t matter.  I worked out roughly how long it was likely to take me, and just settled in for the duration.  Nobody waiting for me, no deadlines, no agenda.  The sun was high and hot, and I was getting higher and hotter.  Conversations with myself and other animals…lizards, beetles, millipedes, butterflies, even the odd cat.  Views of the valley below opening up, switchback after wiggle after hairpin, going out into a cooling breeze, back boiling with it behind you, up and up and up.  Time for a quick cooling stop at a road side cold spring, where consumption was advised in moderation, and I was on my way again.  The road went on, my mind wandered off in ever decreasing circles, and inexorably, unavoidably, and as ever, after a final less interesting drag through the trees, I made it to the top, in one very very happy piece.  I can’t explain why it was so lovely, but it really was.  It was all oddly zen.  Extremely good head space :)

Col de Portet d'Aspet Col de Mente

After an exchange of cameras and photos in polyglot fashion with some Spanish cyclists, I took myself off to the cafe for a drink.  A couple of typical old French gents shooting the breeze on the balcony outside looked askance at me as I passed, and as I emerged with my coffee and orangina, having sadly rejected the very reasonably priced range of Belgian beer, said “was it hard, coming up?”.  I shrugged, smiled, said nonchalantly, “a bit”, before casually taking my seat as if I do such things all the time *grin*.  Funny :)

Time to hurtle down…one last time…but not as fast as I’d have liked.  The road was hot and the tarmac sticky, with a frequently dubious surface, ascending cyclists and motorists, and enough debris that my back wheel lost it a couple of times, quite enough for me to engage restraint mode for sure.  Not that it wasn’t fun, but…  Still, better home in one slower piece than not at all, right?  Only one salutary lesson per day needed I feel.  All too soon I was back on the flat, and doing the ten mile or so flat stretch back to Bertren, frequently convinced I was lost, and doing that thing where I get faster and faster in order to try and get to where the next road sign will enlighten me.  Eventually I resorted to my phone and Google maps, when I turned out to be exactly where I was supposed to be and hoped I was, and was shortly back at base, hours ahead of the more intrepid band.  Two Cols will do me, thank you :)  Time to sit, read, rest, recover and reflect.  Oh, and drink a well earned beer of course ;)

beers monster frog

And so, having opened the bike box, and let me and my steed loose on the Pyreneen world, it was time to put it and me away again, though conversely, a little hope may have escaped from that box.  I did ok you know?  I did.  Maybe this sign is for me…? ;)

 P1010745

Ok, so I did feel a little left out of the bragging rights that the others had all quite justly earned, and a bit of me wishes I could have done better, but I had a fabulous time nonetheless, I really really did.   Guy organised a great trip; Chris and Helen of Pyractif were great hosts, providing all the maps, support, meals and more that you could ever need.  (Though I don’t think the circus coming to town, or the giant roaming toads can be put down to them ;) ). I managed to do things pretty much my way without, I hope, putting everyone else out too much, and the ACG were great company.  Thanks to you all.  I’d do it again.  I’d like to say I’d do it better, but let’s not go making promises I can’t keep, hey? ;)

Cycling time: 19:11
Distance: 235.3 miles
Climbing: 20,800 feet
ODO: 6715.4 miles

cycling still life closed box