Saturday, 30 June 2007

And one I forgot earlier

I don't know how I missed this one. Today's journey included the Turchino, which is probably familiar to lots of our readers from Milan-San Remo. For me, it's the race I have to watch because it goes through so much familiar territory and it usually leaves me a bit weepy and homesick; not that it was ever actually home, but I spent an awful of time in Liguria at one stage in my life.

So it's been a bit hard today, receiving these photos - the one of the densely wooded hills almost made me cry - and helping Roger find a hotel (Saturday night, end of June, Ligurian coast just up from Portofino - not entirely straightforward) which entailed trawling through web sites showing plates of traditional Ligurian antipasti and getting all lyrical, justifiably, about their focaccia. I can close my eyes and think of proper, Ligurian focaccia, soft and oozing olive oil, and see my elder children tiny again, playing on the beach or yawning over endless dinners at little rustic places up in the hills.

Anyway, it's inland again tomorrow in the general direction of Lucca, which is 200 km from Genova so he'll not get there tomorrow. I shall feel better once he's riding into Tuscany.

Alessandria to Genova

A bit of a learning experience, this image posting lark. These pictures come from Albert's ride from Alessandria to the sea - which you can just about pick out in the gap in the hills in that image of the glorious wooded Ligurian landscape. The third is in Genova, a classic 'gone for a pee' photo.

1500 km up

1500 km on the clock, a bit south of Alessandria this morning.

Day 17 - Ivrea to Alessandria (100 km)

A pleasantly easy day across the rice fields of the Po valley, with scarcely anything bigger than a motorway bridge to climb until the final 10 km or so, and nothing worth shouting about even then. I disturbed large numbers of herons, cranes and in particular some kind of what I took, probably wrongly, for egrets as I passed. Warm, almost windless, hazy sunshine. If it was all this easy, everyone would do it.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Days 14-16 - Vevey to Orsieres to Aosta to Ivrea

Three days with distressingly late starts - I'm tired, dammit - took me from the shores of Lake Geneva over the spine of the Alps to the edge of the Po valley. From Vevey it was am easy wind-assisted run up to the World Cycling Centre at Aigle, where I lunched and said hello to some of our translation clients, before carrying on up the banks of the Rhone to Martigny and then up the trafficky main road to Sembrancher where the Great St Bernard pass starts for real. I decided to get a little way up the col that evening, not least because that's where the hotels are, so I stopped at Orsieres, some 1550 metres below the summit, for fondue and bed.
The next day was simple and predictable. I didn't get on the road until after 11, which was a bit of a mistake, but anyway. Little ring, just keep pushing, look back now and then to be surprised by how much height you've gained, stop for a breather now and then. There was much less traffic than I'd feared. Up to Bourg St Pierre the climb is pleasantly rural up the valley of the Drance, then there is a long easier but less pleasant section in avalanche shelters (which did at least keep the drizzle off as I approached the cloud base).
By now it was getting decidedly chilly, and I added some layers at the point where the main road traffic heads off into the tunnel, leaving just a few idiots to climb the last 550 metres on the old road through the cloud to the sanctuary at the pass. As you climb that height in about 6 km, and oxygen is a bit harder to find than I'm used to, it was quite hard going, not helped by my bike's not running comfortably in bottom gear; 30x23 is very definitely not low enough on a fully laden bike.
Anyway, I got up there in fits and starts, and piled in to the restaurant with two German blokes who had caught and passed me a couple of km before the summit for a bowl of restaurative pasta. Then it was a case of putting on just about every bit of clothing I had for the descent. The Swiss border guard waved me through, and the Italian one didn't look up from his paperwork. The old road on the Italian side is being repaired with several sets of lights as well as random trenches and patches of gravel, so it was relatively sedate by my standards until I reached the main road again, where I did get over 70 kph once or twice. The weather in Italy was a lot warmer so I arrived among the t-shirt wearers of Aosta wearing four jackets, gloves and a wooly hat. I expect they're used to it.
I bottled out of going any further that evening, thus giving the Alps one last chance to present the sting in the tail in the form of a howling headwind for 40 km down the valley to Pont St Martin, where i was sometimes using much the same gears going downhill as I had going up the day before. It was late afternoon when it died down and I stopped for the night at Ivrea, where the mountains meet the plain.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Days 11 to 13 - Gray to Besancon to Sainte-Croix to Vevey

I left the youth hostel at Gray (which is part of a student/young workers' hall type place, thus single study bedrooms with the best intentions, as usual, but just couldn't get comfortable - as the sun came and went at 2 minute intervals I was either too hot or too cold all the time, and in the end I fiddled around and wasted a lot of time (a problem to which I am prone). I had intended to take a rather circuitous route west and south of Besancon into the Loue valley, but in the end decided that it would just be too far and decided to go straight through the town. The 1000th kilometre of the trip came up on the last draggy climb before dropping into the town, but that was really the only high point of the day. With storm clouds looming I decided to call it a day in the city - indeed, I'd probably already done so an hour or so earlier. I found a hotel just in time to get both myself and the receptionist soaked taking my bike to the garage. A very unsatisfying day.

Besancon was really the beginning of the real climbing and the end of the wearisome montagnes russes, the dead straight roller coaster roads of the flatter (but not really flat) bits of France that are both physically and psychologically hard going. Frankly, I didn't have a clue how well I was going to deal with the change in terrain, and one of the steps I took was to pack up all my now-redundant maps and a few other bits and pieces and post them off back to England, to save the odd kilogram or so. Of course, as I was raring to go, I didn't waste too much time checking the contents of the carrier bag with the maps in (almost everything was in carrier bags to preserve them from the pervasive dampness), with the hilarious consequences described below by De Vertalerin, namely that I posted my passport home. On the day that I was going to leave the open borders of the Schengen zone for what was intended to be a brief sojourn in Switzerland. But anyway, I didn't know that yet.

The skies were decidedly heavy and black, and were to stay that way all day, and although I never felt more than the odd drop of rain I was often riding on damp roads. The main road starts to climb straight away from the town as you pass the citadel, up the knife-edge ridge to the southeast and I settled into a decent rhythm on the little chainring and was fairly gratified to make it up what is probably a 200 metre climb without stopping, although losing most of the height again straight away was a little tiresome. Even on a Saturday the main road was carrying a fair volume of traffic, so I was happy to turn south on the D road towards Ornans.
This drags up for a way before plunging into the steep-sided valley of the River Loue to the town, which even a fairly ignorant passer through will note was the birthplace of Gustave Courbet. Onwards up the attractive gorge, passing through a series of small villages; stopped for a picnic beside the noticeably swollen river, where I fell into conversation with a former cyclist who commented that it did go up a fair bit from here towards Pontarlier; this was not a great surprise since I had bought an IGN map with real contour lines and everything. He wasn't wrong, though, and from not much over 200 metres I climbed to 750 metres at the head of the gorge, again maintaining a satisfyingly comfortable rhythm. There's something about being able to look back and see that you really have gained a significant amount of height that makes it almost easier than smaller drags and false flat. It was also dead pretty, of course, which helps too.

I rejoined the main road and climbed another hundred metres or so; not having read my map carefully enough I had expected a bit of a drop down to Pontarlier, but in fact it is somewhere around 800 metres above sea level, making my planned final climb of the day up to the Swiss frontier rather less challenging than I had anticipated. However, to make up for it, the last couple of km into the town were uncomfortably windswept and the road engineers have done a damn fine job of making sure you have to go half way around the ring road into the wind rather than just going straight into the town centre on the old road. Crossed back across the winding river Doubs and left town on the main Lausanne road, but after a few kilometres turned off up the road that leads up to the cross-country skiing resort of Les Fourgs - another 300 metres of climbing, and across the 1000 metre contour line for the first time, and then onwards to the Swiss border post. After I had related my journey to the border guards (and been asked, not for the first time, whether I had swum the Channel...) and fumbled around a bit in my panniers looking for my passport, he waved me through, but I was already starting to have my suspicions about what I had managed to do. I carried on, crossing my first official mountain pass (the heavily fortified Col de l'Etroite, 1153 metres) into the little town Ste.-Croix, where I found a cheap room above the local pizzeria
and holed up for the night.

As I had an invitation to visit 40%'s pz in Vevey on the shores of Lake Geneva, that was my next day's destination. Not very early on a sunny morning I started off by dropping rapidly to Yverdon-les-Bains at the head of Lake Lucerne, and then took the pretty, but really rather lumpy, road over to Moudon (back up to 800 metres asl again, and a fair few deep valleys traversed) and then southwards via Onons-la-ville, along a road with a bit too much false flat for my liking, before plummeting off the edge of the world, with Lake Geneva spread out before me and the Dents de Midi, which had been visible all day, behind it. I got a bit baulked by Sunday afternoon motorcyclists on the run down, and although I managed to exceed the speed limit fractionally, my fastest speed of the trip is still 62 kph on the drop down to Dover.

Now I'm here, the weather (picked up a bit of sunburn, carelessly) has broken, and is likely to worsen, with snow forecast on the upper reaches of the Grand St Bernard. I have covered 1175 kilometres from Old Market Square, but tomorrow it will be a matter of heading into Geneva to pay a call on the British Consulate. Wish me luck. And please sort the weather out.

Over the hills and far away - notes from de Vertalerin

So the Herring has reached Switzerland, where the forecast for the next few days is for heavy rain with snow above 1800 metres, which is the height of the Gran San Bernardo pass, his avenue into Italy. He's now at Sainte Croix, once the world capital of mechanical music. Yes, you did read that right. They probably made orchestral cuckoo clocks.

Unfortunately he has posted his passport back to England with a load of maps of France. What the further consequences of this may be I don't know. They let him into Switzerland, so I presume they'll let him out again. He may have to spend the rest of his life between the two checkpoints at the top of the Gran San Bernardo. He also appears to have abandoned all his washing somewhere en route.

He's been a bit worried about the Jura, looming a little larger on the horizon over the last two or three days, but in fact he's both technically and psychologically better suited to proper climbing than to long, attritional , draggy hills and seems to have felt well within himself when he reached Ste Croix at about five this afternoon. But there's nothing between there and Yverdon, and Ste Croix is a little tourist town stuffed with hotels and baked cheese, so he decided to stop. He has a bed in Vevey tomorrow, and then it's up to the Gran San Bernardo via Martigny.

While searching for the distance from Vevey to the Italian border, I came across something curious and interesting. Roger had considered riding to Campostela; but it appears that he's roughly following a different pilgrim route, the Via Francigena, "the ancient pilgrim route from Canterbury across France, Switzerland and Italy to Rome" and first recorded in 876 AD:

There are apparently a series of maps and booklets documenting it- too late now for the Herring - but he can get a parchment certificate from a bod at the Vatican if he has cycled 'at least from Lucca'. I also found the pre-blog account of someone who walked it, though he cheated a little by being Swiss and thus starting half way there, though he makes up for that by crossing from Switzerland into Italy on snowshoes:

Roger is now on the Via Francigena and will be for at least the next few days. It's extraordinary how the idea of pilgrimage, stripped of religious but not, I think, of psychological significance, continues to draw people. I believe that more people now walk to Campostela than at any time since the middle ages; so many people are now treading the route that they form little bands in a positively Chaucerian manner. All this is stuff we might have found out if there'd been more than the most rudimentary planning, but I offer it now in the hope that, when he sees this, he will get some satisfaction from the historicity of his project.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Day 10 - Chaumont to Gray (95 km)

A fairly straightforward main road bash with helpful winds put me onto the final French map of the trip, enlightened by having to provide a spot of technical support on the move. Comfortably within myself, but I caught first glimpses of big hills ahead...

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Day 9 - Vitry-le-François to Chaumont (105 km)

After a very pleasant stay at the Hotel de la Poste in Vitry, and after the kilometre-eating of the previous day, I set off under blue skies with high hopes of another good day. I made good time along flat roads and lakeside paths as far as Montier-en-Der, but there I made the mistake of stopping for lunch. By the time I had eaten at a mediocre Italian restaurant and waited for the local supermarket to open, the temperature had risen to somewhere over 30 degrees, with the sort of humidity you'd expect after the last few days of rain, and worse, a southerly breeze had sprung up, right in my face. The effect was something like riding into a fan oven, and within a few kilometres I was in a bit of trouble, riding the interminable false flats at not much over walking pace and stopping in every infrequent patch of shade. My hopes of making it as far as Langres vanished rapidly, and I set my sights on Chaumont instead.

When I finally reached a wooded section I chatted to the Spangly Princess on the phone for a bit to boost my morale (up to about zero) and then struggled over the next couple of ridges and dropped down to Doulévant-la-Château, in hopes of finding a bar for a restorative coffee. Sadly, it seems as though the French village cafe is a dying breed, and I made the mistake of passing what turned out to be the only open shop in about 40 kilometres of riding. The next 25 km were a long gradual ascent up the valley of a river whose name escapes me (I've left my map at the hotel...), which would mostly have been very pleasant riding had I not been so utterly shattered. On finally making it to the N19, with 20km or so to go to Chaumont, an open petrol station provided a vital couple of cans of drink; from there on it was just a matter of slogging over the last ridge, dropping precipitously back down to the valley of the Marne, jousting with artics for a couple of miles down to the Chaumont bypass, and then unashamedly walking up the steep climb into the town centre and getting the last room in the first hotel I reached. I was almost too tired to eat, and fell asleep fully dressed. And today I'm giving myself a rest day.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Day 8 - Bourg et Comin to Vitry-le-François (122 km)

More like a proper distance for once. Got up and out in decent time and finally found a map shop in Fismes where I picked up the next couple of Michelin sheets, then dawdled over the Montagne de Reims to Epernay, a pleasant enough ride although it appeared that the only comestibles that you could buy for about 40 km were the local fizzy drink by the half case. Stopped at what were probably the last WW1 cemeteries for a while at Marfaux, British and German side by side, mainly casualties from the second battle of the Marne in the closing months of the war.

At Epernay I stopped for a sandwich, and after a small rain squall decided that going east and flat and inhabited was the better part, etc. - there was a nice looking route south-eastwards on white roads but it looked as though it might leave me a long way from anywhere with anywhere to stay - and so allowed myself to be blown up the main road up the Marne valley at a decent lick - beatiful road surface, tailwind, constant stream of heavy trucks passing my left ear meant an easy 30-35 kph - to Chalons and then after a quick stop for a beer in a bar owned by an amiable mountain biker, still briskly onwards ("tout plat, une longue ligne droite") to Vitry, where the Hotel de la Poste provided an excellent dinner and bed.

Day 7 - St Quentin to Bourg et Comin (72 km)

Overslept and panicked a bit about running out of map on a Sunday, so followed the virtually empty defrocked N44 to Laon and then southwards under telephonic instruction over the Chemin des Dames. When the rain started (again) I was just passing a small hotel...

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Day 6 Arras to St Quentin - 77 km

Wasted the morning looking in vain for Internet cafes and copies of Michelin sheet 306. Afternoon was all heavy showers and cemeteries. Not far enough but felt better for getting going. Minor medical conditions that you don't tant to know about are a concern.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Day 5 - Cassel to Arras (80 or so km)

The wind backed a bit during the night, but it dried out, unlike most of my clothes. I set off southwards with the wind on the starboard bow, crossed the River Lys just in time to be able to stand around watching the lifting bridge being opened, and in view of my slight shortage of nourishment, stopped in Isbergues (where I once very tenuously assisted the GB team riding in the Grand Prix d'Isbergues; somewhere there is a picture of a very small Patrick wearing my race pass) for a quick pizza, and then ground onwards through the post-industrial slagheapscape of the Nord, which felt much like former mining areas everywhere. Around Bruay-la-Buissière it started getting a bit hard, and by the time I had moved into the more open countryside northwest of Arras the skies were also looking a bit on the dark side.

A familiar Commonwealth War Graves sign sent me up a little side track to Villers Station Cemetery, which had the advantage of a covered gateway as the rain started to fall, so I stayed around to look through the register. The dead there are mostly from the fighting on Vimy Ridge in 1917, and thus mostly from Canadian regiments, although plenty of the addresses in the register showed that it was still the era of mass migration to the Americas - many had links both in the UK and further afield - one entry had parents in Bacup and a wife in Los Angeles.

I happened on Gunner Wilkins by chance; it was 90 years to the day earlier that he had died of his wounds.

The rain stopped and I headed off again, rediscovering that when a white road becomes a single line on a Michelin map, it isn't a printing error - it means that it becomes a rough track. No problem, but I promptly suffered my first puncture of the trip, just in time for the heavens to open again. Annoying, but quickly sorted. I returned to the tarmac at Mont St Eloi, where I paused to photograph the towers of the ruined abbey. In the village graveyerad in the shadow of the towers, another little cluster of characteristic British gravestones, from a different war: five British gunners from the May 1940 campaign, likely an anti-tank gun crew, alongside graves from the 40ème Regiment des Dragons Portés who defended the village that same day.

Enough dead soldiers and rain for one day, and I headed straight into Arras and once again got a dormitory to myself in the youth hostel.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Day 4 Dover to Cassel (45 km)

After leaving the hostel, which rather forlornly bears a For Sale sign (apparently a replacement is planned, but there will be a gap during which the current staff will all be made redundant) I crossed to Dunkirk (or rather, a place somewhere near Gravelines that Norfolk Lines calls Dunkirk, but I already knew that); after a couple of hours on a mirror-calm sea (the way I like it) it started raining seconds after I got through the bow doors.

It was only a brief shower that time and I headed inland through Boubourg across the polder landscape with a brisk tailwind. Just before Arnèke I stopped at the first of many military cemeteries I was to pass (I have a contractual obligation to do so, you understand); shortly after that the heavens opened properly and it was in a raging thunderstorm - slightly scary in that flat landscape - that I climbed into Cassel - a three-arrow ascent up the highest of the outlying Flemish hills - utterly sodden. I spent an hour sheltering in the Lion des Flandres bar and then, realising that the Tourist Office was still open decided to call it a day, finding a chambre d'hôte run by a local sculptor. I then fell asleep in the bath and woke up too late to find anywhere to eat, which was a bit of a drag.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Day 3 - London to Dover (139 km)

Got out of the hostel at Earls Court brightish and earlyish on a sunny morning, and practiced my courier techniques into the West End and through the City, before heading out up the Old Kent Road with roughly 100% of the traffic lights turning red against me. In order to get some riding out of the way I'd decided to make a main road bash of it, straight down the old A2 as far as Dartford (my local knowledge stopped at Blackheath and Shooters Hill was a bit of a surprise, but I seemed to be going a bit better than before; some increased fitness, some tailwind), and then round via Gravesend and that to avoid the joys of the motorway-standard A2 at Swanscombe cutting (for all that it was once the time-triallists' Mecca known provately and confidentially as the Q25/3, the course where Alf Engers was suspended for overtaking cars while racing). A cup of tea at the Sir John Falstaff on Gads Hill, already advertising its special Tour de France opening arrangements, then down through Rochester and Chatham where I determined that (a) there are actually some interesting things to see in Medway and (b) the OS 1:250,000 maps are fine for journey planning but completely useless for navigation in urban areas. Then it was back to the Q2 throguh Sittingbourne and Faversham.

I had originally planned to spend the night at Canterbury but had already found out that the hostel was full, and I had some legs and daylight left when I got there, so I decided to press on rather than seek somewhere pricier. Orm sorted me out with a pleasant backroad route down to Dover which turned out to be a bit of National Cycle Network, which I pootled down until hammering down into Dover amidst gathering gloom, to arrive at the youth hostel which was full of Dutch teenagers in time to go out and get a takeaway curry, and so to bed.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Jour de répos - London

I decided a few miles out of town that it might be wiser in the long term to take a day off, even this early, and consolidate my training efforts from the first couple of days, as well as resting some of the sorer bits. Anyway, my mum reminded me that the third day of a tour is always the hardest. A quick état des lieux:
  • Cardiovascular system: apparently coping. Possibly not too stetched because of weak legs.
  • Legs: quads achy but not too bad. the tendon behind my left knee hurts a bit, but it's done that every time I've ridden more than a couple of miles since about 1975. Climbing definitely not what it used to be.
  • Backside: could be worse. Would be nice if it were better.
  • Morale: good
  • Digestion: beh. I shall reserve references to the Bristol Stool Scale for 40% postings.

Anyway, early night, early start, tomorrow's target will be Canterbury. In the interim, I'm bumming around Central London all day, so if anyone wants to say hello, feel free. Phone number's over there somewhere -->

Day 2 - Northampton to London - 110 km

Had a bit of a lay in until Shelagh persuaded the good Boxo to kick me out of bed, so I didn't get off until 11.15 or so, laden with boxogrub, which went down very well along the way. Cut through Salcey Forest to Wolverton, which was pleasant, but from there on it was trafficky roads pretty much all the way. Went straight through Milton Keynes, ignoring its concrete cows and its tradition of fourth division football (saved a good gob of phlegm for the National Hockey Stadium), and out on the first bit of Roman road of the trip through Fenny Stratford, then shadowing the Grand Union canal to Leighton Buzzard.

Here I was on pretty familiar roads, being Bucks born and bred and all that; indeed, roads I had raced on. Using my local knowledge I chose to take the easy way through the Chilterns, climbing to Dagnall close by (but rather lower than) Whipsnade zoo. The climbing was still rather slow, but on roads you know you don't get taken in so easily by false flat, and the flatter bits rolled past nicely.

At the top of the climb, my mother was waiting beside the road to offer support; I duly sent her off down the Gade valley road to look for somewhere that would sell a cup of tea. Turns out that the Gade Valley is actually a bit of a desert (albeit a pleasantly descending one), but she managed to find somewhere just short of Hemel Hempstead. Which was nice.

On setting out again, I tried to terminate the expedition prematurely at a roundabout on the outskirts of Hemel; if the bloke driving the invisible black car that elected not to drive into me despite it being blatantly his right of way happens to be reading - sorry and thanks. Anyway, that woke me up a bit for the remaining 300 or so roundabouts from Hemel and down the old A41 (which is Akeman Street, i think) to Watford. I chose to avoid the town centre, not least because going straight on at Hunton Bridge roundabout is a bit terrifying for a cyclist who wasn't really capable of doing much more than 12 mph on the gradients involved, so I took the bypass up by Leavesden (where my mum used to work for De Havillands) and north Watford where my grandparents lived; it's a trafficky dragstrip but there was plenty of space and only one nasty sliproad to negotiate. By the time I was bypassing Bushey, the rush hour was in full swing and I was mostly moving faster than the traffic. At Elstree I rejoined Watling Street, stopped for a breather at the top of Brockley Hill and from there on it was straight down the Edgware Road/Cricklewood Broadway/Shoot-Up Hill (down)/Kilburn High Road/Maida Vale/Edgware Road, which was all familar territory from when I first lived and cycled in London; I quickly discovered that my courier trackstand techniques required more strength than I really had left, although they did get some applause once or twice. Anyway, across the park, down Exhibition Road and I reached the youth hostel at Earl's Court a bit after seven, definitely feeling like I'd done some miles but a lot less knackered than after day one. I celebrated by joining Ken from E2's pub quiz team for the evening at the Queen's Arms in, um, some bit of SW6 that I don't really have a name for. We came second, but it was a pleasantly sociable evening anyway.

Pictures to accompany this post when I get to somewhere with a card reader.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Day one

Nottingham - Northampton - 107 km

I guess I always knew that today was going to involve taking a right hammering somewhere. The somewhere turned out to be in the gap between the end of the 1:50000 map and the beginning of the OS quarter inch "South-East England" on the drags of the B road that runs from Melton Mowbray to Market Harborough.

Anyway, it went more or less like this: after setting off from the Old Market Square at 10:43 prompt, with Patrick on his bike and Dan on the trailer, we did the prologue stage (back) to West Bridgford with reasonable comfort. Dan even pushed a bit but mostly stuck to giving instructions. With the first 4 km out of the way the trailer was summarily detached, and after a short delay for the usual procrastination and dithering, I headed south in company with Patrick up the backroads through Tollerton, Keyworth, Widmerpool and Willoughby, where Patrick encountered the hunger knock demon. However, by that time we'd done most of the pre-lunch climbing so he managed to ride through it to our predetermined lunch spot at Kirby something or other, just outside Melton, about 30-something kilometres covered.

Shelagh came out to take Patrick home, and after an enchilada of uncertain digestibility I said goodbye for the duration and set out across to the aforementioned Melton-Market Harborough road, where I pondered an alternative route.

However, lofty ambitions are one thing; within a mile or so I had lowered my horizons to getting to the top of the next rise. And not long after that it was more along the lines of the next tree or field gateway. There's a lot of false flat on that road, so it felt as though I was going even worse than I actually was (which was bad enough anyway). After a very slow hour or so the general lie of the land eased enough that I started feeling merely fairly crap, rather than absolutely awful, and I stopped for a coffee in Church Langton and dropped into Market Harborough. Stopped at a Spar on the outskirts for provisions including an unwise ice cream and to commiserate with the bloke there about what a shit job he had, and then headed on ther A508-avoiding route via East Langton (where the proper climb was a lot easier to cope with than that false flat earlier) and the battlefield of Naseby, which is being grockled up tastfully. I duly noted that Prince Rupert's viewpoint over the battlefield left a great deal to be desired in terms of dead ground, and that Fairfax's was rather superior, if a bit close to the A14.
From Naseby village I veritably flew down the descents and ambled painfully up the remaining small rises to the outskirts of Northampton, where I realised I couldn't find my carefully prepared map to chez Boxo. After a little use of modern technology, I was pointed in the right direction and duly arrived, to be looked after extremely handsomely, for which I am extremely grateful. And now I'm going to bed.


I'll be off then.

Saturday, 9 June 2007


Checklist time. Might as well do this here, then you can tell me what I've forgotten:

  • bike
  • credit card
  • passport
Fairly handy:
  • phone + charger
  • clothing, cycling (2 shorts, 1 longs, 2 s/s racing vests, l/s vest/jacket, rain jacket, socks, casquette, gloves for descending)
  • clothing, civilian to taste
  • tools - allen key set, multitool widget, bearing pin extractor.
  • spare tubes, tyre levers, and þe olde puncture outfit
  • pump
  • spare brake and gear cables
  • spare 4mm hex head M5 bolts for when bits start falling off
  • contact lenses + spares + glop + sunglasses
  • maps (adequate to get me as far as St.-Quentin, otherwise buy en route)
  • camera and charger
  • toiletries + towel
  • sundry pharmaceuticals (well, you don't expect me to do it on bread and water, do you?)

Friday, 8 June 2007

"bike porn"

As requested by certain parties, here's what I'm going on:

It's a traditional British touring bike, which I have had for a while now and has been scandalously underused. The frame was built by Mercian Cycles in Derby as a clone of my equally scandalously underused road racing bike which was made to measure by Eddy Merckx (although probably without any actual personal involvement). It normally has mudguards but I've taken them off for the duration, since I may have to take it to bits for the flight home. Campag gears (8-speed, now obsolete), Shimano chainset (52/42/30, not that I really need a 52 ring for this), Avid brakes that squeak rather badly (must play with the toe-in), Cinelli bars/stem, Mavic rims on Campag Athena hubs, 32 mm tyres (designed for comfort rather than speed). And proper black cotton duck panniers.

The plan is to leaving on Sunday morning, with a ceremonial start from the lions in the Market Square with Daniel on his trailerbike as far as West Bridgford, and then a modest 100km or so to Northampton where I've been offered a bed (thanks Boxo). Anyone wanting to join me for part of the ride is obviously welcome. Plans after that remain fluid.

Plan A

A route (approximate and non-binding):
Nottingham - Market Harborough - Northampton - London - Canterbury-Dover
Dunkirk - Cassel - Arras - Laon - Epernay - Bar-sur-Aube - Besançon - Pontarlier
Montreux-Aigle-Martigny-Grand St.-Bernard
Aosta - the Langhe - Passo del Turchino - Genova - La Spezia - Lucca - Livorno - Grossetto - Civitavecchia - Rome. The last bit is a bit vague still. Tuscany is lumpy (e ho paura che Maremma mi sfacerà), but the coast road may not all be bike-friendly.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

An introduction of sorts

I've been a cyclist all my life. My parents met through a cycling club. My childhood - well, maybe when I've worked through the associated traumas I'll write more about that some other time. I measured out my adolescence in gradually improving 10 mile time trial times. Through my twenties I tried and mostly failed at most sorts of racing, and organized a few races as well. I worked as a courier in London for a time. I revived my university club for a while, and managed to be British Universities 100 mile time trial champion (against fairly modest opposition) before going and racing (at a very low level) in Italy for a short while. I didn't get around to getting a driving licence.

Then in 1994 or so I got a job in Brussels as a translator, and it all started to fall apart a bit (although I was one of the city's few cycle commuters for a while). With a sedentary job and then self-employment, plus a family to make at least a vague semblance of looking after, with the added distraction of the Internet (yes, that's YOU people), I didn't get out often enough to maintain a comfortable level of fitness, and besides there was suddenly a vast amount of racing on the telly to watch, races I'd only ever known from press reports in pre-Eurosport England. That wasn't all bad, because watching Flemish TV didn't half bring on my Dutch, which accounts for a fair proportion of our business these days. But it took cycling from an active to a passive pastime.

We moved back to the UK in 2003, not least because of the better educational provision here for my younger son Daniel, who has Down's Syndrome. I joined a local club, the Sherwood CC, and rode a few local cyclo-crosses very slowly, but still without really getting away from the computer enough.

This spring, a family friend of rather limited experience decided on the spur of the moment to see if he could move up from his 8-mile commute to do the End-to-End, Lands End to John O'Groats. Despite my scepticism, foul weather and a number of misadventures, he managed it in impressively good time, leaving me, the self-identified "cyclist" who had actually ridden a total of about 40 miles all year, mostly in 600 yard chunks doing the school run, somewhat bemused. And, it has to be said, challenged. On 21 May, the fifth anniversary of my father's death, I decided to put in to the management for permission to attempt a ride that would be both even more ill-prepared, and of course a bit longer. On the other hand, self employment does allow me a bit more flexibility , not least in choosing to go when the sun is shining and there isn't a headwind blowing. At least to start with. As long as I've mended all the computers that we managed to break in the interim first, anyway. So here I am. Departure is scheduled for next Sunday or Monday.

Oh, and this is of course not all for my benefit, so I am accepting, and indeed asking for, sponsorship on behalf of the Down's Syndrome Association, via my justgiving page.