Thursday, 29 July 2010

28/7/10: We were a little bit concerned about getting the bike boxes ready in time for the flight and also needed our boarding passes so we left the campsite relatively early at 9am. We returned to the bike shop&this time were served by a different man who immediately went and found us 2 bike boxes. We spent a happy hour or so packing our boxes as carefully as possible so that the less than gentle baggage handlers wouldn't cause any damage! We then discovered how difficult it would be to carry our boxes across town as they weighed about 30kgs and were an awkward shape to carry. Nevertheless we dragged them accross town to an internet cafe to print off our boarding passes for the flight. We then hauled them to the bus stop. Although we may not have been cycling today we felt more tired than usual by 12pm as a result of carrying these things so far in the heat.

We got the bus to the airport and arrived at about 2pm. With all the stuff we had to do it was a good job we had spent the night in La Rochelle and got up early instead of doing any cycling on the last day. We 'caught some rays' for an hour or so before checking in (judging by the weather reports from home, there will be no sun for the next 2 months, so might as well enjoy it in France!)

We checked in and watched the baggage handlers drop Alex's bike whilst loading it onto the plane and then boarded. The plane arrived at Gatwick fine and the bikes came off the caroselle in one peice. We caught the train to Victoria station and then the tube to Kings cross.

We carried the bikes down the long escalators to the tube, I paused at the bottom to wait for Alex and immediatly a loud voice came over the tannoy, 'will the young man with the box please move immediatly, you WILL cause an accident!' This doomsome warning was a bit embarassing infront of everyone but quite amusing afterwards. We reunited and waited for the tube to Kings Cross. We stood on the platform with 2 big boxes wondering how we would get on. I squeezed into one carriage and Alex decided to wait for another tube which was less busy rather than cram in another carriage. I got to Kings cross and waited on the platform for Alex to arrive. 3 tubes came through and no Alex.....not good! Suddenly from nowhere a woman bumped into me who was on the ski instructors course with me earlier this year. We had a brief catch up and then she hopped on the next tube. I noticed my train was leaving in 15 minutes so decided I had maybe missed Alex and he was waiting for me at the platform for the big train to York. When I arrived it was due to depart in 2 minutes. I had an awqward decision to make-wait for Alex and both buy new tickets or do the bad, yet economical thing and leave him behind. I decided I'd rather leave him and go halves on his ticket than both buy new ones so hopped onboard, I was told to put my box in a doorway of a carriage by a guard and wait for further instruction. Another guard arrived and told me 'you can't stand there, mate.' I said 'thats fine, where can I put my box?' He then gave me a rather snotty order saying I should have put it in the next carriage and was blocking a fire exit. I had to firmly remind him I was only standing there because another guard had told me to. He left me alone and we pulled out of the station with a guilty feeling developing in my stomach.

I immediately phone Alex's dad to explain the situation as Alex hasn't got a phone with him on this trip. I was soon phoned back with the message that Alex had not been allowed on the tube as his box was too big, but told me to carry on. Later on I discovered if I had waited seconds longer on the tube platform I too would have been removed. Alex caught a later train back from London as he missed the main one, although they didn't charge him anything.

So here ends my trip, 1877 miles late. I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I didn't feel bored at any time during the evenings as a result of being able to write the blog using my phone. Many thanks for all the comments and feedback and also to Dad and Alex Nowakowski for joining me and stopping me from going insane by breaking up the time spent cycling alone. And many thanls to the people I met on the way who helped me. I will put up a few pictures soon for those who are interested. If anyone is inspired to cycle around France or wants any advice on routes etc please feel free to contact me as I have full records of the routes I took.

My favourite part of France has to be the southern alps, the few days around Mt.Ventoux time took me through the best valleys and over the best cols. The worst col award has to go to the Col du galibier-an absolute beast if you fancy a challenge.

I have put together some statistics from the trip for those interested:

Total mileage: 1877 miles
Total Time: 167 hours, 1 minute
Average speed: 11.24 mph
Total number of Kcal burnt: 176,580 (5045/day)
Total no. Of pedal revolutions: 801,600
Total number of wheel revolutions: 4,194,124
Number of Cols: 19
And amazingly, after all of that, I weighed myself when I got home, and I have put on 1kg! Clearly the patisseries contain more energy than I thought!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

26/7/10: We left the campsite in Blaye at about 9.30am and stopped off at a bakery for breakfast on the way out of town. Today's route would take us north along the side of the Dordogne river and then follow this along to the coast as it opens out into the sea. The terrain was pretty flat, and the weather has finally changed back to super hot&sunny. We cycled through lots of small villages throughout the morning and stopped for a drink in a bar mid morning. We had lunch in a vineyard full of ants which appeared to be drawn to my cheese a bit too much. We pressed on to arrive at the beach in Royan at about 4pm. Alex realised at this point he had lost his wallet somewhere along the way (probably in the bar we had a drink in.) Luckily it contained only 1 bank card and a small amount of cash. We texted his Dad who very speedily cancelled the card. We went down to the beach for about an hour but didn't go swimming as the water didn't look invitingly clean. We then cycled to tonights' accommodation which was with my old french exchange partner in Saujon. We stopped in a huge supermarket on the way to buy some wine for them. I didn't know what to buy as I'm not much of a wine buff so asked a frenchman next to me in the wine section for advice. He looked knowledgable and sure enough helped select something suitable with great enthusiasm! When we arrived it was not quite as expected, my partners parents were in Spain and had left him and his brother home alone. They were sat around their garden table chain smoking and in the process of organising a house party that evening. Alex and I chatted for a while and then had a shower while they organised things. We were really hungry and they didn't seem like they were going to feed us. I asked about food and was reassured a BBQ was going to happen. About 15 of his friends arrived and we had a great evening by the side of their swimming pool. Alex and I were so hungry we ate some of the seafood salad on the side in the kitchen, we thought it was for the BBQ but turned out to be a bit older than expected! Eventually at about 11.30pm the BBQ was hot enough to cook on so we wolfed some sausages! We went to bed quite late but not very. It was nice to see all of Theo's friends, as I met many of them 4 years ago when I stayed with him on the school French exchange. Total mileage today was 57.83 miles.

27/7/10: We left Theo's house a bit later than planned as my alarm clock didn't go off until 10.30! We both felt a bit dodgy after the seafood we ate in desperation last night, we noticed it was still there when we left! We cycled through Saujon on the way out and bought some food for the day. The roads in this area are dead flat so we made good progress and soon arrived at Pont L'Abbe-the town where all my exchange partners have been to school. We stopped in a bar for a drink and continued to Rochefort. I was keen to go and see the ship they are building there (A replica of an old boat called L' Hermione) but when we arrived it was 8€ each to enter, so we decided to not bother since that is pretty much 1/3 of the daily budget! We had lunch on a bench in the park and I rang a bike shop in La Rochelle to reserve 2 cardboard bike boxes for us to put the bikes in for the flight tomorrow. The man said 'you can have 5 if you want, we've got loads.' We set off again towards La Rochelle. On the way we were overtaken by a man in his 60's dressed in full Cofidis team kit (a large proffessional cycling team). It was very windy so I cheekily cycled in his slipstream. He was obviously flattered by this and told me to move a bit to the right so as to be sheltered from the wind even more. I jokingly asked him if he was a rider for Cofidis, to which he laughed but told me how he used to race many years ago as a young man. He proudly told us how his ageing bike was the same as the one used in the 1995 tour de france. We decided not to comment on the fact it was several sizes to small for him! He was fascinated by our trip and congratulated us on making it so far.

We arrived in La Rochelle at about 6pm and went straight to the bike shop to get the boxes. When we arrived we were told to speak to the workshop around the back. The mechanic told us he had no boxes and he probably wouldn't have any tomorrow. Great! We rang another bike shop&they said they had just 1 box we could have, so we arranged to pick it up tomorrow. So we will have to spend some time searching for a box tomorrow.

We walked along the coast a bit and then headed to a youth hostel. when we arrived it became apparent we would have to join some sort of organisation to stay. The youth hostel wad also quite expensive so we chose to camp in the Camping Municipale instead. We cooked the last big dish of pasta and headed back into town for a wonder. In the evening in La Rochelle there are alot of magicians and street performers along the side of the port. We enjoyed watching a man doing some Diablo tricks and another man juggling fire on a unicycle. We then went to a crepe stall where a boy of about 14 managed to take 4 attempts to make us 2 crepes. We felt sorry for him at first but then when he began to swig large gulps of beer inbetween flippings we began to loose sympathy for his sloppy technique! Total mileage today was 57.00 miles. Tomorrow we fly back to London stanstead, I will update the final chapter when I get home and also put a few photos up of the best bits!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

25/7/10: Last night we formed a group from the various nationalities in the youth hostel and went out into Bordeaux to roam the clubs. We had an australian, 3 brits, 1 danish and 2 dutch making up our group. The 2 dutch girls introduced us to the bike scheme they have in Bordeaux where you take a bike for 1€ from a rack and return it to another docking station after you have used it to get where you want to go. This was a fantastic getting to know everyone activity and certainly adds an extra dimension to a night out-shame it doesn't happen in Britain! We had trouble entering clubs wearing shorts but I chatted to the bouncers at length about how light we had to travel and how carrying jeans was really unrealistic and they let us in! The youth hostel closes at 2am and reopens at 5am so at 1.30am we decided we would nee the night out and stay out late. We had a great time and managed 4 hours sleep before having to be up and off before 10am the following morning.

Feeling a little less nimble than usual we cruised through Bordeaux and out into the countryside at a gentle pace. We crossed a huge bridge over the Dordogne and had lunch in a vineyard. The weather was cloudy but still quite warm. We continued up to Blaye where we stopped to watch the Tour de France finishing in Paris in a bar. Fantastic end to a tour de france I feel I got really involved in. Shame Bradley Wiggins didn't do very well, but good to see Mark Cavensish trounce everyone on the last sprint.

We then found a campsite in Blaye which is actually within the walls of the ancient castle in the town. There was a huge scout rally going on so we were lucky to find space to camp. Alex and I decided after a measily 40.25miles today we would go and ride around the city. Spotting a steep grass bank we decided we could cycle down it. Unfortunately I went first and the steepness of the bank combined with my road bike not really being ideal for steep off road and my poor driving meant I went over the handlebars and landed in a patch of nettles and rocks. This concluded our tour of the city and I returned to the showers to clean my grazes! Rather ironic I had turned down the 1st steep bank saying to Alex, 'I've come all this way uninjured, it would be a shame to do something now. ' We cooked dinner and had an early night to catch up on sleep.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

On the last Blog I left the names of the towns we stayed in blank by accident! We went from Aire sur L'Adour to Villandraut yesterday.

24/7/10: Todays stage took us North from just outside Villandraut to Bordeaux. We were woken up by the cyclists next door preparing to set off. They greeted us with a slightly patronising greeting as we got up far later than 'competative dad&son.' We decided we had to get on the road before them so threw everything together and waved them goodbye as they faffed with their washing! After we had cycled about 5 miles along the straight roads through the Foret Dom de Capbourteil, 2 cyclists appeared to be gaining on us from far away. We recognised them to be the couple we had met earlie. We hid in a bush and let them pass so they would think we were cycling ahead and would spend all day chasing us!

Having ridded of our juvenille sense of behaviour we pressed on to Bordeaux. We arrived in time to see the tour de france time trial in full swing. The cyclists were all warming up on turbo trainers near the startline so we got to see some big names up close. They did a small circuit of the centre of Bordeaux and then headed out of town. We found a youth hostel to stay the night in and dropped our bags off before heading back onto the streets to see the final few starters of the time trial. The crowd went wild when Frank Shleck rolled onto the start ramp, but sadly he was unable to regain the lead from Contador.
We wondered around Bordeaux for a while after, it was teeming with people all travelling to see the tour. We then cooked dinner at the youth hostel and got chatting to some Americans on a tour of europe. We are sharing a dormitory with a German boy on a pilgrimage and a boy from London who has come to work in France for a while. Todays mileage was 38.46 miles.
23/7/10: We had a bit of a lie in so didn't set off until 11am today. We had already travelled 30 miles further north tan planned so could afford to have a shorter day. However, the weather was far better than forcasted so we decided to make a full day and cycle to near ...... We stocked up on croissants and hit the road. We cycled along miles of flat winding country roads and stopped for lunch in the sun. We stopped in the town centre and spread all of our clothes on the verge while we had our bagettes and attempted to rid of lycra tan lines by tactical sun bathing. Suddenly, the heavens opened and we ran around in our shorts collecting clothes from trees and socks from lamposts before they got wet again. The afternoon was full of short showers so each time the sky began to darken we would nip into a bar to watch the tour on TV and have a drink. It was nice to see Mark Cavendish get a stage so easily.

We found a very sandy campsite where Alex fell off as he rode in through the deep sand at the entrance. We met the incredible 'Steve' who was a londoner who had left the UK to escape his cocaine addiction to work as a lumberjack (he didn't put on women's clothing...) and camp in the campsite to save money! He let us use his camping stove which was great and we enjoyed hearing about his work. Just as we were going to bed a hardcore farther and son from Devon arrived. They had cycled the same route as me pretty much but had wild camped the whole way! They had a tarpaulen sheet instead of a tent. We chatted with them for a while and went to bed. Todays mileage was 68.26.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Message for 24beforemylove: Hi! Many thanks for your offer but unfortunately I have now agreed to stay with Theo (my 1st exchange partner) on the 26th. On the 27th I will cycle up to La Rochelle but need to stay in La Rochelle so I am near aiport for flight home next morning. But thank you very much, I can imagine it's a great place to be for Joel and friends in the summer. Tim

21/7/10: During the night there was a huge thunderstorm which sent amazing cracks of thunder up the valley. Sadly it soaked all the clothes we had out to dry and wet the tent which made packing up difficult. There was also a thick layer of fog from the valley floor upwards which gave a distinct 'Lake District effect' to the Pyrenees. We stopped at a bike shop on the way out and must have been the ultimate annoying customers as we didn't buy anything, just asked to use a few tools for some small mechanical difficulties and left! We ascended into the mist for the first 2 hours over the Col de Peyresourde. The top was in the fog so we didn't have a view at all. It was really cold too so we descended down to where the temperature was a bit warmer and had lunch whilst cheering passing cyclists on their way up!

We then headed all the way along the valley floor out of the mountains from Arreau to Lannemezan. The road was slightly downhill and with some tactical slipstreaming we didn't get below 20mph all the way so spirits were high despite the fog. We decided to press on to Tarbres as it is quite big so would have plenty of places to stay. Unfortunately my rear tyre was begginning to disintegrate rapidly and bits of rubber were falling off it leaving the inner skin exposed so puncture risk was high. I put an innertube repair over the worst part and carried on. We were worried about the tyre really tearing as I had no spare tyre since I sent it home with Dad. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! It began to rain on the way there so we arrived soaked. Alex had a nice fall when he couldn't get out of his clip in pedals, luckily no damage was done. My tyre had held up so we arrived in good time and there was a Formule 1 hotel. At €15 each this was a bargain and we could dry our clothes out.

I cycled into town to get a new tyre, I was cursing not having brought one as I have loads at home for this bike and really didn't want to pay more for another! I managed to find one in Intersport, just to get me home. I was served by the most reluctamt frenchman I have ever met who told me I needed a £40 tyre when I could see one on the rail behind which was fine for £10. He kept on telling me it was the wrong size until I was so insistant it was correct he allowed me to buy it. I put it on outside the shop and wondered back in to politely ask if I could use the pump, making damn sure he could see how well it fitted! We cooked in the room on my stove and planned the route for the next day. Mileage was 64.04. I have now completed all the Cols for my trip. In total I climbed 19 , and they were all killers! The alpine ones I found much bigger although I didn't do any of the big Pyreneen climbs like the tourmalet. Hardest climb award definitely goes the Galibier-less well known but definitely the hardest.

22/7/10: We decided last night we would set off at 7.30am to cycle the 30 miles to Pau to see the tour de france start. We woke to the sound of heavy rain and the clothes were still wet, not nice. We made the decisioon to have a light day and stay the night in Pau. Still, we dragged ourselves out of bed and set off. It was very grim. The rain became torrential, the temperature dropped, fog set in and lorries piled past us. We stopped only once and ground away until 10am. We arrived at the F1 hotel in Pau which we had rung ahead to make a reservation and dropped off our bags. By chance the Lampre, Euskatel and Rabobank cycling teams were in the hotel next door and were all coming out and getting onto the team busses to travel to the start. We watched them all wrinkling their noses at the rain and run to the coaches under umbrellas.

Throughout the trip Alex's rear wheel has been getting progressively more&more buckled. It all started with RyanAir damaging it in transit. It got to the stage where we had to release his rear brake to stop it rubbing. Luckily we met some Belgians at the F1 hotel who had a spoke key. I have done wheel truing before at work, but only on small kinks, Alex's was something more serious! The Belgian men didn't have a clue but crowded round offering advice which was kind, but didn't help! To make them let me do my thing we just told them we did mechanics work in bike shops and they left us alone to tinker! We got the wheel straight enough to be useable so cycled into town to find a bike shop with a proper wheel truing stand and to see the tour.

The Police in Pau were far more pleasant and let us cycle the wrong way up the road to where the tour were going to the start. We waited 30mins or so and then one by one the riders filled the start line. I was 1m away from Mark Cavendish and Frank Shleck and Armstrong and Wiggins were very close! When the yellow jersey of Alberto Contador arrived he was mobbed by the press. I was shocked by how thin he is. All the cyclists have bodies of 10 year olds with big legs, but Coontadors legs were tiny. It was depressing to see how fragile Bradley Wiggins looks in real life.

They all set off and we went to a bike shop who only charged us €3 for a wheel true and they did it there and then-fantastic! It had stopped raining when the tour departed and was looking quite nice. We decided to cycle further so cancelled our room at the hotel and reclaimed our bags. They didn't mind too much, and I apologised and explained how the weather had changed our plans. We cycled along some nice roads to Aire-Sur-L'Adour stopping only to watch Frank Shleck fail in his attempst to gain the yellow jersey from Contador on the summit of the Tourmalet. The weather was awful by the looks of it, so probably a good thing we didn't camp there last night as planned. When we arrived in this town we didn't realise it was a pilgrimage destination for many people so saw lots of religous groups everywhere. We were still a bit wet so managed to find a B&B for just €12 each including breakfast!! The room provided was huge with a double and single bed and a shower-we couldn't believe our luck. After cooking dinner on the stove I caught up with the blog and we put clothes all over the room to dry. Mileage today was 68.12 miles.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

19/7/10: Last night after I had written the blog we went into town and bumped into the Rabobank mechanics who were cleaning and servicing the team bikes in the street for everyone to see. It was fascinating to see inside the team bus where there must have been about £350,000 of bikes and wheels-we did the sums! They were cleaning them to the point of being spotless and had special stands for cleaning them that rotated in all directions. We started to day by heading straight into town (Pamiers) to see the start of todays' tour de france stage. We wondered around town for a while and picked up a few freebies before deciding we would wait 2 more hours until the riders arrived but would cycle along the road for a while and see them when they overtook us. Due to the barriers not being fully up at one road end we ended up on the wrong side of a barrier and soon had an angry gendarme shouting at us. He seemed to be incredibly angry considering the race didn't start for another 2 hours and there were people walking in the road anyway. I asked if I could possibly push across the road to get through a gap about 15m away on the other side instead of going back 1/2 a mile to the point I entered. He refused point blank and said I couldn't go back either. I replied with 'well what can I do' to which he proceeded to push me backwards quite hard! I was a little surprised by his manhandling as I felt I had been compltely polite throughout. He told me I would have to lift my bike over the barrier. Bearing in mind it weighs a huge amount with all the panniers on I asked him if I could move one barrier a little bit to create a gap and not have to lift it. He didn't seem to like this either, so fearing arrest I got Alex to help me lift it over along with his. We eventually managed to get out of town via a small, unclosed road. As we cycled out we met all 21 team buses coming into town with all the riders on board! We spent an good 20mins oggling at their bikes while all the team support cars slowly came past in the traffic jam of cars waiting to enter town. Most impressive was Lance Armstrongs' Trek Madone with the special paintjob and Andy Shlecks' truly bizarre Specialized Tarmac with weird writing all over it. It was funny to see how the teams obviously co,pete with their team coaches too-the high budget teams with darkened windowed coaches like the Saxobank one and the smaller budget teams with what look like school buses.

We cycled a way out of town and saw the tour 5km into the stage, it was fantastic and they were already moving so fast. It's amazing how into thw Tour the french are. We saw it at a small junction in the road and at least 250 people were there to watch. We then followed their exact route for the rest of the day uo unil the summit of the Col de Port D'Aspet where there is a campsite at the top.  Along the way every single French group of people by the side of the road cracked the same joke 'Allez, ils sont deja passes' To the extent that it becme funny again after the 50th time.

We had a late lunch at 3pm as all shops had closed for the tour coming through. After lunch we climbed up out of St.Girons to the top of the Col to the camspite. It wasn't too big by alpine standards but still must have been double any climb in Yorkshire, so Alex was impressed! Total mileage today was 57.07 miles.

20/7/10: We started the day with a 6 miles descent from the campsite into the valley floor. It was a great way to wake up, but did mean we immediately went from 1400m down to 600m. The moment we hit the bottom the road began to rise for the Col de Mente. We chipped away at this for a good hour and a half and then enjoyed another 6 mile descent into St. Beat. We had only had 2 Lion bars for breakfast as the campsite sold nothing else and we didn't pass any shops. We bought plenty of food from a supermarket and had lunch next to a woman who was sculpting huge statues from rock. We were a bit surprised to see she wasn't wearing a mask despite creating huge amounts of dust with her powertools that she seemed to be inhaling! We stopped at a bike shop to pump Alex's tyre up a bit more, and despite having closed for lunch, the man who owned the place went inside and got us his pump. The road then lead along the valley floor to the start of the Port de Bales (a climb the tour did the day before.) We did some shifting of baggage to help on the climbs as Alex weighs a fair bit more than me, more the 'Chris Hoy' type in his own words so does struggle on the climbs but doesn't on the flats! We ground away to the top and met 2 English men on the way up who had ridden the Etape two days before up the Tourmalet (an enormous bike ride following a Tour stage on closed roads but anyone can enter.) They warned us of the difficulties of seeing the tour there as people camp up to a week in advance on the mountain to see it. From the top we planned to follow a small track that turned into a road after about 2 miles and dropped down into a town called Cadeac. However, this track was on my map but in reality was a small footpath! Having cycled a further 200m higher to reach this path this was a little annoying. We could have descended on it, and were keen to test out the ofroad abilities of our Tricross bikes but spotted a mountain we had to push the bikes over to then get down. It was about 7pm by this point and we had no food or a place to stay. Alex was pretty tired after the first 2 cols and didn't fancy another, and I didn't really fancy pushing my bike up a footpath either. We returned to the road and cycled 10 miles downhill in about 20mins into Luchon where Alex and I finally enjoyed the reward for our climbing efforts! We found a campsite and had a pizza for our efforts. As a result of this and not being as far ahead as I had hoped we are going to head out of the Pyrenees tomorrow and miss out the Col D'Aspin and the tourmalet. It's a shame not to do this famous climb, but we just have to change the route if we want to arrive in La Rochelle for the 28th. Instead we hope to go around the Tourmalet and see the tour set off from Pau on the same day. Total mileage today was 56.38 miles.