Thursday, November 1, 2018

Badger Divide part 1

Since Tom started this cycling thing in earnest, we've had a bit of a tradition of going on a trip at Autumn half term. The clocks have gone back, the days are shorter and the weather is more likely than not going to be cold, wet or both.

We could put our bikes away until the weather warms up and the days get long again, but that is not how we roll.

The vague plan for this year was to follow a route devised by Stu Allan that starts at Inverness and ends in Glasgow. We booked train tickets for there and back, and headed North.

Jenny Graham, messaged us to say lets meet up as we were in her city, and that is exactly what we did before we set out on our little ride. Lest you didn't know Jenny is just back from riding round the world in under 125 days. If Roy Castle was still around he'd have played her a tune on his trumpet.

A fine start to the day.

We left Inverness with no particular urgency, just a vague idea that Fort Augustus would be a good place to supper.

The morning mist soon cleared and the sun accentuated the autumn colours.

We came across a cafe in the woods after a couple of hours. An unusual place which did massive slices of cake which we didn't leave a crumb of realising that we'd neglected to pick up any supplies in Inverness before we left.

We were riding at a calorie slow burn pace, so I wasn't too worried. In fact we were too busy chatting to worry about food.

Once we made it to the Loch Ness we knew that Fort Augustus wasn't too far.

Fire roads for the most part, with the odd fun descents thrown in.

At Glenmoriston, we were running out of daylight, so opted to take the direct route along the road rather than the forest route which we'd ridden before.

At Fort Augustus, we spent some money on snacks for the next day before going to the "Pizza place" that Highland Trail 550 riders try to get to on day 1.

We were starving. Pots of tea, soup, and pasta filled us up though.

Then it was time to head up the hill. The Corrieyairack pass to be specific.

We'd not brought a tent, so there were two options for a dry bed. Tom voted for the nearest. We arrived just after 9pm, and were soon readying for bed.

Findra baselayers and Alpkit sleeping bags ensured a good nights sleep in sub zero temperatures.

A not particularly early start to the next day. But, hey Tom's on holiday.

It wasn't long before we were above the snow line.

October snows until the very top were no problem on the Sonder Frontiers.

Over the top.

Then down towards Laggan. We'd hoped to pick up some food hereabouts but the route passed nothing. We could have diverted but, Corrour station wasn't  too much further.

The wind was proving to be more than an annoyance as we left Laggan, and the weather was definitely changing.

Not long after us reminiscing about the last time we rode over this beach, the rain came.

Waterproofs on, we took to the aero bars with our heads bowed. As the rain fell harder it started to get dark, and we turned our Exposure lights on.

Nearing the head of Loch Ossian we spied lights on at the Youth Hostel though we rode straight past though to Corrour Station for food. We ate our starters and warmed up a bit before riding back in the rain to the YHA for our Firepot meals and a great night's sleep.

Next morning, up early to catch the train back home.

 I had to scrape my saddle of ice before we left. Brrrr.

As we arrived at the station we were pretty lucky to be so close to this fella.

A great trip. A relaxed few days up in Scotland. I don't think we made it half way on the Badger Divide, but the company was great.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Ghistele Epic One Percenter Gravel Ride.

Epic is a word that means different things to different people. It's not a word I use generally, as for me it conjures up visions of literally hanging on to life by a thread.

So when an invite to the Ghistele Epic One Percenter turned up in my feed, a 222km ride in Belgium, I was initially interested though in a don't use the "Epic" word kinda way.

Reading the Rules though suggested that Epic, maybe a word that was used tongue in cheek. You must wear a lumberjack shirt and sport a moustache were a couple of the rules that suggested that this was a ride that was going to be about fun rather than death or glory.

Buy tickets for the event, book ferry, ask for a day of school. Done.

Fast forward a few days, and then we begin weather watch in earnest.  It was definteley going to be wet.  One of the forecasts suggested 50mm of rain, but this screenshot below, taken the day before suggested things might not be so bad.

However, no matter which weather channel you looked at, the thought of camping after a big wet day out, did not appeal, so we booked a couple of nights in a hotel.`

Plenty of room for us and our Sonder Ti Caminos.

An early start to register for the ride. Though coffee and pastries were supplied.

It was great chat to some of the other riders at the start. A group picture, then at 7am we rode.

The pace at the start was fairly mellow, as was the weather. Within the first hour though the only riders we were left in contact with were Ruben and Rik.

There were 4 checkpoints on the route, and here's Tom at the first.

At the checkpoint like at the Barkley Marathons there is a book, from which you tear out the page that corresponds with your race number.

A witty title "Playmates".

It was raining, and though we saw a couple of signs saying it was 13 degrees C, it felt a lot colder.

Not playtime.

At around 80 km there was the first of two feed stations. A camper with a pullout canopy. The smiling crew were counterpointed by a guy stood there shivering, wrapped in a blanket, and the rain sheeting off the canopy. Hot soup, yes. Coffee, yes. Oh and gummy bears.

A warm van to get in to, a lift back to Gistel, these were thoughts in our minds.
We did though, head back in to the rain.

An hour after the feed station and the heavy rain showed no sign of stopping. The route was a sort of "out and back" affair, and we weren't at the furthest point.

Puddles, and mud, the going had become slow.

I was cold, and we were both at least partially wet. Can you have an Epic in Belgium? We had the makings of one.
We left a message with the organisers.
We were diverting and riding back to the start on the road.

The sun made a brief appearance winking at us to berate our decision to turn back, then the rain returned.

Rain now accompanied by a strong block wind.

As we rode the last few Km in we formulated a hasty plan for getting the bikes stowed and ourselves into a hot shower.

143km done. Oof.

Later that evening we met up with our fellow One Percenters for a beer though.

Apparently we missed the best part of the course, including the Kemmelberg.

Maybe next year, though only if it isn't going to rain.

A ride put together by witty passionate bike riders.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Everesting the Kemmelberg.

The last couple of summers we've been on long multi week bike rides, but this summer we've had other things on. So nearing the end of Tom's school holidays we were both itching to do something of magnitude.

We were heading over to the North of France for a few days. As we were away with the girls, we were good to disappear for about one day, and originally Tom had suggested that we revisit the Paris Roubaix cobbles.

The talk of cobbles moved over the border to the Belgian 'bergs. I told Tom about the Tour of Flanders cobbles I'd ridden, and Tom reminisced about the time we rode up the Kemmelberg on the Sonder Bikes Tandem back on our French Divide trip in 2016.

Tom joked that we could "Everest" one of the 'bergs, which to be honest I thought was crazy idea. Riding up any of these hills once would not be a problem for us, though Everesting one?

Simon Warren of 100 climbs books fame, has also written a book Hellingen, that lists 100 climbs in Belgium. We had a flick through the book and shortlisted 5 climbs to go and have a look at.

We took an overnight ferry to Dunkirk to arrive early but with not a lot of sleep. The plan was to find a climb on Day 1, ride it on Day 2, and on the 3rd evening of our holiday, meet up with some friends near Antwerp for a drink.

The nearest climb to Dunkirk is the Kemmelberg and that is where we went first.

The Kemmelberg is the highest hill in the West Flanders region. An important vantage point during the first world war. The memorial at the top (the Angel) is to the fallen French Soldiers in the 1914-18 war. At the foot of the Western cobbles is an ossuary containing the remains of 5294 soldiers only 57 of whom are named. A hill with history.

We arrived mid morning, and walked up from the East passing the now empty restaurant Belvedere on the way to the Angel. We then walked over the top to the West.

The West side though steeper in parts looked to be a better option. We left and went to put up the tent at a nearby campsite. We returned later to ride both sides, and our initial thoughts were confirmed.

We had a plan.

Just before 8:30 the following day, we parked the car at the top of the hill.

We were both riding Sonder Colibri bikes. Lightweight carbon frame and forks that would be appreciated on the ups, and disc brakes to control the steep rough descents.

At 8:30 we were at the bottom, and the GPS commenced recording.

From the road junction where we started the road rose gradually from a gradient of 6%. Heading through the trees the gradient starts to steepen.

Then the gradient steepens further and the cobbles begin.

Then the gradient keeps climbing to over 22%. There is no easy line.

It's not a busy place, but there are walkers, fellow cyclists and cars to avoid at times.

Tom and I have both done Everesting rides before, but this is a whole new level of hard.

The plan was ride 5 climbs and then stop to mark the sheet at the car and eat some food.

Below, Tom grabbing some food after climb number 40.

Neither of us had ridden the bikes before the previous day, but they were proving great for our crazy little ride.

Late afternoon we were greeted by an Instagram follower from Lille, Pascal, who rode a lap with us before bidding us good luck for the rest of our ride.

A short while later whilst grabbing something from the car we saw Kristof ride by. He'd ridden over to see us, and had brought some Twix bars, and Tom's favourite, some Coca Cola. It was good to hear Kristof tell of his double Everest tactics, that is, it wasn't even planned. He just kept on riding.

As the daylight dwindled, so did the number of people.

We were alone.

Then as we climbed our 67th climb, Gunther, another friend turned up at the top of the climb. He'd also ridden over to greet us. Again he rode a lap with us, we chatted and then he rode home.

A little later one of the local residents came out with a bottle of coke for us, and the question.... "How many times are you riding up and down our hill?" I answered 137.

He said someone once rode 79 circuits of the hill I asked why 79. He answered "That's all he could do."

Around climb 80 it came, the thing that we dread on these rides, the lust for sleep.

We nearly collided once on the way up, a moments inattention, or maybe sleep.

We'd stop, eat, drink more coke to try and shake the sleepmonsters. We'd then shiver uncontrollably as we rode back down the hill into the cold night air.

Even though we were past half way I was unsure if we'd get to the end.

Tom was tired, and I was tired too.

We'd sit in the car for a rest and set the alarm for 5 minutes on repeat, to make sure we didn't fall asleep.

If only morning would come sooner. We knew with daylight came salvation. We just had to keep trying.

So after the longest night on a bike ever, dawn came, and like magic, and nearly like we'd had a nights sleep, the want to sleep left us.

6ish in the morning, and Alan Goldsmith, Mike Toyne and Steve Heading called by to cheers us on. Thanks.

Not long after, the guy who'd brought us out coke the night before, made us some coffee.

27 hours in and we are back up to speed. Below Tom on the 22% section of the climb.

What was really cool in the morning was that Kristof turned up again with more snacks, Coke and encouragement. Star!

Then the girls brought us drinks, pastries and sandwiches.

 They then counted down the final 10 climbs with us......

.....which we savoured in the sun.

Job done.

Again a big thanks to my wife and daughter, Pascal, Kristof Allegaert and Gunther Desmedt for your encouragement and snacks.


I use a Garmin Dakota which needs a computer and cables to upload big rides like these.So I didn't get to upload this ride until 4 days after we'd finished it. There was always a little niggle at the back of my mind that maybe we'd not completed the 8848 metre target. Not exactly sleepless nights territory, but you get the idea.
Early this morning when I arrived home I uploaded the ride and to my surprise I found out that we'd climbed a total of 10,034 metres.
Tom says that this apparently makes us High Rouleurs ie. riding more than 10,000 metres in a single ride.
Tom is very happy!
The "oversight" was caused by me referencing a segment on Strava that was 9 metres shorter than the actual climb on my phone.

What do they say about poor planning?

Stats. 221.39 Km 10,034m Total time 31:18:55

Tom's Strava - Everesting Kemmelberg.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Home 2 Sea 2 Home

Tom's school holidays have started, and to celebrate the start, Tom wanted to do a big ride.

We picked a suitably distant destination, St Davids in Pembrokeshire, and let work out a route. Cyclestreets has three options for route planning - fastest, balanced and quietest. We opted for balanced.

We left later than planned, but there was no rush. Above, we stopped for a bite to eat near Crewe.

Below the view from Long Mountain which straddles the England / Wales border.

Quiet roads, disused railway tracks and canal towpaths made up our route.

At Newtown we stopped for a chicken kebab.

As the sun was setting we stopped and put up the tents. 113 miles done.

Day 2 and it was drizzling. We packed up quickly and rode to Llanidloes where we stopped for a bite to eat at the Great Oak Cafe where we met Phill from

The first part of our ride through the Cheshire lanes was flat. In Wales though the terrain was distinctly lumpy.

At the bottom of the hill we sheltered from the rain to eat a snack.

At the Cwtch Cafe at Pont-rhyd-y-groes we stopped for more food. The home made pizza was excellent.

We left stuffed, but a few hours and hills later we stopped at a chippy for chips.

Day 3 and we were woken by the sun on our tents. It was going to be another scorcher.

As I was getting ready I found a tick in my leg which the campsite owner kindly removed for me.

We had a leisurely ride the last few miles to the seaside taking in the views.

Below Friend Wood's Tryane 2.

We spent the afternoon pottering around St. Davids, eating chips and ice cream.

That night we stayed at a campsite, and watched the sun setting over the sea.

Day 4, and it was time to head for home.

We changed a few bits of our route on the way back though. We followed Sustrans route 4 to Fishguard, and then the 82 to Aberteifi.

A refreshment spot on the way to Newport.

It's a good thing I had my Alpkit snapwire spoon to hand for that afternoon's ice cream.

Yes, more chips.

As the sun started to fade and we started to look for somewhere to put the tents we found a bird hide for shelter instead.

Day 5 and after a brief route diversion that nearly took us to Aberystwyth we breakfasted at the Cwtch Cafe.

Above heading into Cwmystwyth.

Then back over this brute of a climb.

Another century ride which took us back into England.

Day 6 we woke in the corner of a field near Whitchurch.

The sun was mostly out, but best of all there was a strong south westerly wind which assisted us the last 50ish miles home.

The route that Cyclestreets planned for us was excellent. Very little traffic for most of the route though it was quite hilly with 29,000' of climbing.

An excellent start to the holidays!