Friday, July 8, 2011

Good to Be Home

It is hard to believe that just last week I was riding into Nice. Almost two months of cycling sure went by fast. In fairness that is sort of a retrospective on the trip. During those first few days of the Les Dex Alpes tour climbing out of Lake Como and into Visp and the Col Du Grand St Bernard seemed like the tour was never going to end. It may have been the rain and gloom which pervaded those days which leant that perspective to the trip.

It is good to be back home. There are so many things we take for granted that a trip like this makes you miss. Simple stuff like taking a clean dry shirt off the hanger instead of a damp wrinkled thing from the bottom of your clothing stuff sack. Getting a clean glass from the cupboard and filling it with ice cold water from the water dispenser on the fridge is so nice compared to having a big swig of warm water from your bikes water bottle, even though you cleaned your bottle just ten days ago. Sliding between two crisp sheets just beats crawling into a sleeping bag that you have slept in for the last six weeks.

So let me jump into the big question that is on every ones mind. Would you recommend this trip. There is absolutely no doubt that I would totally recommend Bike Dreams. They delivered a very solid product at a very good price. It is totally true we did not stay in 5 star hotels. However we did not pay 5 star prices. We did have 5 star food. Yaap the cook fed us the best meals you could want. I would tell him every day that he made my favourite dishes and he would say that can’t be true as you say that every day. Well when the food is great it isn’t hard to say that it is your favourite. The other thing was there was lots of wine on the table. Where do you see that? Richard the mechanic and lunch maker and everything else that needed doing staffer was the other main highlight of the trip. Got a problem? Richard would pull the solution out of his bag of magic tricks. It didn’t matter if it was your bike which needed repair or if you were just feeling blue Richard fixed everything.

With the big ride of 2011 out of the way I am clear to work on my running for the rest of the year. I still have a half marathon and two full marathons to run this year.

So what about next year? Where to next year? Another cross America? How about a cross Canada with Cycle Canada? They offer a catered tour now which looks pretty appealing. Or maybe the Tour d’Afrique’s Amber route from St Petersburg in Russia to Venice. So many chooses. What are you doing?


Don't ask about the photos they are just a couple of random shots

Friday, July 1, 2011

Nice! July 1 2011-07-01

It was pretty warm when we got up this morning and there was no doubt that it was going to be a scorcher. There was a lot of excitement in the air as everyone was excited about finishing the tour, and going home. However there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was still going to be a tough day. There were still two hills to climb and 120 kms to cover.

As I set out I caught Dennis and snapped his picture. Then we rolled down pasted this medieval castle and town which was built in 1536. Jurg and I stopped for a picture but did not go in as we had stopped there last night. It was quite a place and it would have been fun to explore it some more but there was no time.

We rolled down the 12 kms to the first climb and started up. Although it wasn’t the steepest climb on the tour I just had no legs because of yesterdays all out effort. I was sure glad to see the summit some 15 km later. We then rolled down though this amazing canyon. It had to be 400-500 feet deep. Richard stopped the van and crawled out to get a look.

After lunch was the second climb and it was now 37 C. The total climb was 12 kms and I made it up about 6 before I had to stop. I was total done. It took a bout 10 minutes of sitting under a tree before I could continue.

The roll down from the summit to the sea was great. We formed up about 25 kms from the final desitnation for a group ride into Nice as it is a big city. Wilbert the tour leader took us up to this park which over looked the city where we had some champagne and treats before going to the hotel.

It was a great celebration supper in the hotel and lots of speeches and merry making.


Col Duh Bon EH (Col du Bonette) June 30 2011

Last night Richard grabbed my bike and made a canopy for it. Then at supper dressed in a bra and shorts and came out riding my bike. It was pretty funny. I then had to take it for a spin around the campground.

To day was the last of the Cols and was the longest and hardest day of the Les Dex Alpes. We were to climb the Col du Bonette which has a summit at 2780 meters. Then after a 70 km down hill we were to climb this second pass which summit was at 1680 meters. The total milage for the day was to be 158 kms. A long day without the two climbs.

Jurg and I had figured that it was going to be close to a 10 hour day including stops and lunch. Breakfast was at 6:00 Am and we were on the bikes at 6:35. About 3 kms out of camp we came upon a herd of sheep being driven up the road. It was pretty neat as they just flowed around you.

The weather was perfect for the first climb. It was 28 kms to the summit and we where there by 9:00 Am. It was an exceptional effort and was only possible as we had a cool weather and no wind. The views were absolutely stunning.

Lunch was down at 67 kms. There we found out that the road was closed so the alternatives where we were go over another col or ride down this valley. We choose the valley. It was all downhill but the head wind was brutal. You had to work like heck to keep rolling. At any rate we rolled in exhausted.

Tomorrow we ride to Nice and the end of the tour.


A Couple More Cols June 29 2011

It was a great looking day this morning and Jurg and I were off early as the heat of the day builds early. When I got up it was already 20 C in my tent.

Today the ride was 88 kms and 2350 meters of climb. We were to cross the Col D’Izoard and the Col Du Vars. The Col D’Izoard is one of the climbs which is on the Tour Du France route. It was 16 kms all greater that 8% with lost of sections greater than 12%.

It is really cool riding these sections of the Tour Du France. I grind away at 7-9 kms/hr and the tour riders average 25 kms/hr. The first col seemed pretty easy even though it had the most climb associated with it.

We then cruised down though a beautiful canyon and down to lunch after lunch there was a detour which took us over this huge hill were there were some fantastic views of the canyon. It was extremely steep on the detour. It was an old road which was not used any more. I think they were building a new tunnel.

The second Col of the day was Col D’ Vars which was another 17 kms and only reached 2108 meters. However it is now the full heat of the day and I saw a sign showing 37 C. The first 7 kms are in the wide open with out a speck of shade and all 9-12% grade. By the time I get 6 kms I am totally over heated. So we stop and Richard comes along and pours a bucket of cold water over my head. It felt great. Jurg and I ride on and reach the village of Vars where Richard is having coffee. I get my dry clothes out of the van and as it is only 8 kms to the top of the col we ride on. The Col d’Vars is not on the tour and there isn’t much there just a sign post.

We roll down hill and into camp. It was a really tough day. Tomorrow is the last of the cols, Cols De La Bonette, and Col de la Couillole. It is the toughest day of the tour. We start at 6:00 AM. As a side note you should the Auzzies talking about the “Col duh Bon Eh” It is a killer.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Col du Lautaret June 28 2011

To day was an easy day as we had ridden the Lès Alpes Heuz yesterday. This turned the 93 kms day into a 65 km day. However before I get in to the ride, Richard had fixed a broken spoke back in Sicily and yesterday it broke on the climb. I found a spare spoke in one of the hundreds of bike shops in town. So I gave Richard the replacement spoke. When I awoke this morning Richard had fixed my bike, so that I could ride. WOW!

Juerg and I rode out together and were joined by Jack which was a welcome addition to the ride, so the three of us cruised along. The ride to the summit from the camp ground was 38 kms at a very low but steady incline. I think there was only one kms of 8 % and the rest was only 1-2%. It was perfect ridding temperature and the sun was not yet shining on us as we rode up through this canyon. There were several tunnels and snow sheds. The sun was shining on the mountains which surrounded us and it was very pretty.

When we got to the summit at 2058 m it was only just after 11:00 Am so we stopped and had a great lunch in one of the restaurants at the summit. Sitting eating on the terrace and enjoying the scenery was fabulous. About 1:00 Pm we rolled for camp which is in Briancon. It was a 30 km down hill which was a very nice easy 2% down. It was perfect.

The first thing Juerg and I did was head down town where we got some beer and drank it in the town square. The local police came by but we saw them first so we put the beer away. There is nothing like having a cold beer in the nice warm sun (36C).

Fun in the Sun


Monday, June 27, 2011

L’Alpe d’Heuz June 27 2011

Today was suppose to be a rest day however tomorrow you were suppose to ride L’Alpe d’Heuz and back then ride on to Col du Lautaret, for a 95 km day. However the climb to L’Alpe d’Heuz was an out and back so if you knocked that off today then tomorrow is an easy day.

The climb up L’Alpe d’Heuz was only 14.4 kms however it was no picnic. The climb is mostly 8-10% grade and there are lots of sections which although not marked are much steeper. The climb has 21 switch back corners which are all marked and count down as you climb the hill. The total climb is some thin like 1500 meters. This climb is one of the best known climbs on the Tour du France. I think the record is something like 36 minutes but it took me something like 2.5 hours, including panting, and wheezing beside the road time. Juerg and I got out around 8:15 so we beat the heat of the day (36 C), which was good. I would have died up there on the bald hillside. It was very picturesque and it was very nice not having a million motorbikes roaring past you.

I am a few hundred meters from the finish line for the tour when there is a bang and the improvised spoke that Richard had made way back in Sicily let go. I was hoping to ride it for the next few days. It was part of this tour. With a broken spoke I had a wobbly wheel and my hopes of setting a down hill record were dashed. The good news it that Bourg d’Oisan is bike shop Meca and I found a couple of new spokes. When I get home I will have to look in to getting a stock of spares as they are quite rare.

This climb really showed me how strong the Tour riders are.

Time for after noon nap.


Col du Télégraph / Col Du Galibier/Col du Lautaret June 26 2011

It was off to a great start this morning as we had a 43 kms down hill to the turn off for the first climb. It was really a bunch of fun sailing along on a nice gentle down hill. Juerg and I were down to the turn off in record time so we had time for a coffee and a pastry before we tackled the first climb up to Col du Télégraph.

It was only 12 kms up to the summit, however it didn’t make it any less steep. There are little mileage posts at the start of each kilometre giving the distance to the top and the steepness of the climb. They help to distract you from how hard it is when you can see the kilometres tracking down. Lunch was at the top of the Col du Télégraph. It was a beautiful spot. The French army was on patrol with their armoured vehicles when we were there. They tried to surrender but I wasn’t taking any prisoners.

After lunch came the big climb of the day up to the summit of Col du Galibier. It is at 2646 meters and was a 21 km climb. The first few kms are pretty easy but the hill gets steeper pretty quickly and there are lots of 8% kms of sign posts. This is one of the lesser known Col’s but is definitely one of the most beautiful we have climbed so far. I was struck by the beauty of the mountains surrounding me. You wind though a big open valley and then when you get to the end of the valley you start the switch backs. It took me the best part of 3 hours to get to the top, but it was worth it.

Coming down the back side was a high speed rush. Down the switch backs which I find challenging, though a bunch of tunnels, snow sheds, and though several tiny villages. The wild flowers were really putting on a show and the fragrance from them was very intense. I had stopped to photograph them, when Richard came up unseen in his van, He skidded to a stop in the gravel be side the road, blowing his horn. It scared the heck out of me.

Juerg and I were about 8 kms out of camp when one of the hot bike teams which are here because of the Tour du France came screaming past, in a big pace line. Juuerg said “Lets run them down” Here we are stopped and they are flying and 500m in front of us. I didn’t think there was a hope but I started to roll and jumped hard on the pedals. A km down the road they are much closer. Juerg took over and closed some more. My turn and now we are seriously gaining on them. With a km to go we are riding their wheel, and laughing.

Sunny days on the bike are great


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Col De L’Isran June 25 2011

It is only 13 C in my tent this morning and without leg warmers it is going to be a cold ride. So I pull on a pair of running tights. I stand up at breakfast and make a request of people that they look though their stuff for my leg warmers. Looking at the faces I might as well have been talking to rocks in Chinese. I doubt that anyone heard me. There is always going to be some wear and tear on equipment so I guess I will just write them off to wear and tear.

The Col De L’Isran is the highest paved pass in all of Europe. It is not the most famous and certainly not the hardest. There is a 18 kms ramp to the pass which is only 1-2% and then there is a section of 8 kms which is pretty steep. After that you come to a ski village where we stopped for a pastry and coffee, which was delicious. Then there is flat section of 4 kms followed by the final climb of 18 kms of 8-10%. I can do about 9-11 km/hr so it is 2 hours to the top. It is brilliant sunny day at the top which is at 2770 meters. I don’t know the times but we were having fun so who cares. I hang out and have lunch but it is windy and Juerg and I roll pretty quickly.

We are in a little village where there isn’t much but we are in early so Juerg and I walk into the grocery store and get some beer and drink it in the town square. We laugh that the last time we did that was on the Orient Express. We talk about getting caught drinking in public in Romania. Juerg thought it was Timmoshara but I am not so sure.

It was a great day and we had a lot of fun.


La Col Petit St Bernard June 24 2011

There is a bike shop in the next town which is only 17 kms from the campground. So Juerg and I ride down there and I get a new cycling computer. They have a really good saddle bag which will hold my rain coat, so I buy it as well. Totally re-equipped we are off to attack the next pass.

It is 48 kms down to lunch so we hit the road. About 6 kms out of lunch my rear de-railer cable breaks dropping me into high gear. What was about 20 minutes is now an hour. At lunch I hang around and after everyone is gone Richard fixes my bike and I ride the col. Although the last rider left lunch 45 minutes before me, I pass four riders on the climb and make the summit in 2 hours flat.

Having a sunny day is really great. It sure makes you feel great.

In the end some one steals my leg warmers out of Richard’s van. I am totally convinced that someone goes in to the van to change into their warm cloths for the decent. Then start grabbing up stuff and putting into their sack, and not looking at what they are grabbing. I am totally unimpressed with the young buck Auzzies who have joined this segment of the tour. The other day one of them grabbed John G’s sleeping pad. He couldn’t be bothered looking for his pad. The next day one of them grabs Adian’s tent. Couldn’t be bother looking for his. It is all about me and screw everyone else on the tour. I am really sorry to have to post this but then some times the truth has to be told.


More Rain June 23 2011

It poured all night lat night, so I would have thought that I would have gotten it out of it’s system but when I got up I see that the clouds fill the valley. The ride for the day is up the Grand Saint Bernard pass which is one to the biggest on the tour. Juerg and I set out up the valley and the first 75 kms pass quickly as it is a flat ride and we have found a local rider who pulls us almost the entire way.

Just before lunch I stop to help fix a flat and Juerg rides on. When I get to lunch he is not there. What happened to him? I hang around but no Juerg. Finally I have to ride on but it is now pouring rain so I have my rain suit on. It is 40 kms to the top of the pass, and I can do about 10 so it is a 4 hr grind. With 15 kms to go Richard come by with the truck and I decide to get in the truck. I just can’t stand another 1.5 hr in the pouring rain.

The truck gets to the top in 20 minutes but now we sit and wait until the last riders get to the top which is 5:30: PM. I walk around and go for a couple of little hikes on some of the hiking trails. There are some St Bernard dogs that live in the hostel which is at the top so I play with them. They are really friendly.

In the end my cycling computer gets lost in the confusion which is in Richards van and all the bags. We camp in the rain.

I understand there is a place in the Gobi desert where it hasn’t rained in 150 years. I am moving there.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Day Off June 22 2011

It is always nice to have a day off. However in this case I cannot understand why we have a day off. The Les Dix Alpes has 11 stages so why have a rest day after only 2 days? It seems to me that a rest day would be much better after three or four days of riding. If we had that split we would have 3-4-4, instead of the 2-4-5 split. I really would have preferred to put another pass behind me. The only reason I can think of is that the crew wanted to take the truck and drive up to see the Matterhorn. Mean while we are stuck in this little nowhere town with nothing to do. Nice – Real Nice.

There was fresh bread and sweet rolls delivered to the campsite by this local baker. Jurg was quick to spot this so we cleaned up the cinnamon buns for breakfast, before the other riders clued into the fact that there was fresh bread and other bakery items for sale. We then walked the km or so into town and wandered around. There wasn’t much to see so it didn’t take long. We found a bike shop and wandered in there. I was able to get a new water bottle to replace the one with a cracked top. I also found a really nice light set for my bike. There is white LED light for the front and a red LED for the rear. They are of the new mounting style which is with a rubber band, making them very easy to mount on the bike. My bottle of soap got squished in my luggage on the trip in here so I had to buy a new bottle of soap. There wasn’t much left in the bottle but it did make a mess. Fortunately the mess was right on top and was easy to clean up.

Shopping done and after a coffee we wandered back to the campsite, for an afternoon snooze. We will head back down town in a while and get some supper.

Ok here is an idea. Everyone is dog tired, especially the carry over riders from Palermo. So look on the map and see where the train goes. If the train goes down to the next campground then jump on the train. They run every hour and are very inexpensive. You just roll your bike down the ramp and jump on.

Tomorrow is another big climb. One pass down and nine to go.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Sunny Day On Simplon Pass June 21 2011

It looked beautiful when I crawled out of my tent this morning and after a heart breakfast Jurg and I set off together. This is Jurg`s home ground and he knows all the roads and turns. So it was great riding with him. He could point to just about every mountain and say that he had climbed it. He could also tell you and interesting story about the climb. So it was great rolling along listening to the stories.

The first part of the ride was 30 kms up a smaller pass which took us up approximately 800 meters. It was a relatively constant grade so we made great time. We passed lots of great scenery and at one point we were concerned about getting ahead of lunch so we stopped for coffee in this little village. One side of the road was a modern village on the other was an ancient stone village. Everything was made of stone, the buildings, the roofs, the pathways in the village, the stairs, everything. Jurg and I walked through the stone village it was very interesting.

After lunch we started the Simplon Pass climb. It is the first of the ten Alps. It wasn’t too steep but it was without let up. I got out and just ground away. There was a lot of snow shed on the climb and they were a bit noisy but there were cool in side. The sun was beating down on us and I was just soaked with sweat. The ride profile showed the summit at 90 kms however when I saw a sign post which showed it to be at the 83 km mark my spirits just soared, that was a whole hour of grinding. The summit was beautiful. Nice and sunny and warm.

Jurg and I put on our warm cloths for the decent and I followed Him down. Jurg knew where the camp site was so I just followed him in. It was great not having to navigate.

Tomorrow is a camping rest day. Hopefully the weather will be as warm tomorrow as it was today (32 C).


Les Dix Alpes Stage 1 June 20 2011

To day was the first truly sunny day we have had since Rome. God that seems like a long time ago, but that is another story. It was really beautiful today the sky was a magnificent blue with just the odd little puffy white cloud. It was so marvellous to feel the heat of the sun on your back.

However I am wandering from the story which was that we left the hotel for the shore of Lake Como for a group photo, which was followed by a group ride out of Como. The ride has now changed as there were only 16 of the original riders carry on and now there are 50 riders from the 30 so it is a huge group. The average age has also plunged as almost all of the new riders are under 40. So there was a lot of testosterone flowing as the group ride started out of town. I was going to say that I thought that none of these Auzzies have zero bike manners as they were passing on both the left and right sides, stopping slowing with never a hand signal or a word. However I am changing my story and I am now saying that there was a lot of excitement in the air.

After we left Como and head up the lake it was just so beautiful. The lake was a total mirror and the rising sun was shining on our side of the lake. I had dropped to the back as I was stopping to take pictures and enjoy the morning. There I met up with some of the new riders and together we rode past the first turn which would take us over to the next lake. Even though I kind of knew it was wrong I didn’t really care as it was just so pleasant. Ten kms up the road it was time to take bearings and we then rode back the ten kms to the turn. There was a 400 meter climb and Craig left me and I left the other two riders. After the climb I caught up to Craig where he was fixing a flat, so I pumped his tire for him. As we were there an ambulance flashed past us with the sirens whaling. As the other two had not caught us I thought this is bad.

Craig and I rode on as team and we caught a couple of different groups and arrived at lunch towards the end of the ride. There we learned that Rob the big Englishman had fallen and broken his collar bone.

For the rest of the day rode together taking turns pulling and enjoying the day. The road took us in and out of Switzerland. I think we are in Switzerland tonight but I have kind of lot track. There were lots of tunnels, lots of towns to get lost in, and just incredible scenery.

The reason this ride is called Les Dix Alpes is the there are nine passes over 2000 meters and one pass which is just under 2000. It is part of the tour ride.

All in Craig and I covered 148 kms and climbed over 1500 meters. What a great day!