The end of 16 days of cycling

Jen’s knee should be okay! That seems like the best place to start. Jen has to rest for a couple of weeks and do some physio on her knee, but all the important bits are still intact and fine. Happy days!

Almost a week ago we arrived in Locarno, and it feels like things have actually become more hectic since then.

Getting off the bike on day 16 was a mixed-bag of emotions, combining joy and satisfaction at achieving what we’ve been working towards for such a long time with a bit of sadness that it was all over.

I’ll admit that the 30 or so hours we spent at my aunt and uncle’s (thanks again Sue, Rico and Ben for being our destination) were long overdue and it was fantastic to be able to play: jumping in the pool, trying to learn to unicycle, and a load of other things which we couldn’t have justified stopping halfway through France to enjoy.

A Swiss-themed arrival party

A Swiss-themed arrival party

The journey home was a lot less pleasant than the ride. Everyone was pretty worn out and ready for home, but towing a trailer meant being limited to 60mph all the way back. We arrived in Bangor around 24 hours after we left Locarno, all ready for bed!

Shocking the body by switching from cycling 8-10 hours per day for 16 days and then doing all the above probably isn’t the most sensible idea, and by Sunday evening before we left I had pulled something in my left foot (admittedly while trying to leap into the pool through a 2′ hoop feet-first with a run up) and a mosquito bite on my right foot left me with a giant, inflated, itchy foot. It was probably the first sign that I am actually quite worn down by the adventure.

What an adventure!

What an adventure! Exciting roads down the Furka Pass to Andermatt

Around the time we finished I was feeling fit, strong and pretty confident that I could have carried on. Over the 16 day cycle I settled into a rhythm and routine which meant I wasn’t wearing my body out too much. Once we had overcome some of the routing issues and the final few days were attainable and programmed in I felt a lot less mentally strained as well. Now we’re all scattered across the UK again the realisation that I need a little rest is dawning on me. Every day by 6pm I feel shattered and ready for bed, and there’s still a lot of unpacking to do as well as all the “nice” things such as returning the Garmin GPS and GoPro to their respective donors (thanks again Blacks, Rob, and Konrad and Sarah). My plan at the moment is to rest my foot as much as possible so I can ride at the weekend, so lugging around the bags and boxes of cycling kit can wait.

Hopefully we'll get to ride together again soon

Hopefully we’ll get to ride together again soon

Having not done anything particularly physical since getting out of the pool on Saturday, I’m eager to get out and do something, and it’s a side-effect of the trip I like. Being physically active is addictive, and now I want to capitalise on my cycling fitness to make the most of Snowdonia and the rest of North Wales, as well as do a couple of bigger day trips including Bangor to Leeds (150 miles).

I'm going to miss having great views every day

I’m going to miss having great views every day

We’re very close to achieving our target, so if you haven’t already, please donate to MS Trust and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation through JustGiving: http://www.justgiving.com/teams/teampedal. All donations go straight to the charities, whose amazing work hinges on the generosity of its donors.

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It’s (almost) all over: arriving in Locarno

I am writing this post from a balcony high above Lago Maggiore, sipping fresh coffee and watching the sun come up on another clear, blue day. There’s no cycling to do today (sad face), but it is nice to have a quiet, relaxing morning after the past 16 days.

Yesterday we set off from Gotthard campsite in Andermatt after spending the evening with Sue and Ben my aunt and cousin respectively. Everyone else had a long, cold night with not much sleep as this was our coldest camp of the trip. I definitely felt lucky (and a little smug) about my Alpkit Pipedeam 400 down sleeping bag with a silk liner which has served perfectly for everything from the hottest summer night in France to an (apparently) cold night in Andermatt.

The long & winding road...again

The long & winding road…again

We have been very lucky with campsites over the past couple of weeks so we were due a duff one, so a word of warning: Gotthard Camping Andermatt is a small patch of grass with the facilities over the main road inside the cable car station. The campsite is a bit of an afterthought, but the facilities were at least clean. I would guess that it’s the only campsite in Andermatt because the lady running the place was pretty rude as well! Fortunately we only stay in campsites to sleep, so it was all soon forgotten as we got on the road. I think the mental and physical anguish from the previous day had worn everyone down because the start wasn’t the most efficient we’ve had. There’s something about setting off for the last day where you almost feel like it’s over so there’s no rush.

Happy to be half-way up

Happy to be half-way up

The climb for Gotthard starts a mile or so from the edge of Andermatt so I had a lighter breakfast (only 4 Weetabix!) and we just carried bananas and water. After yesterday’s ascents of Grimsel and Furka, Gotthard promised to be more straightforward, albeit with a cobbled section. Jen’s knee had improved and she was feeling positive about the last climb, so we all pushed on together. The photos show something of Jen’s determination, and I think her knee was somewhat more painful than she let on.

Struggling up the cobbles

Struggling up the cobbles

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Cobble fun

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Enjoying the climb a bit too much

Near the top of the Gotthard pass we were joined by Ben, who climbed the last couple of hundred metres with us. I think he had a better time than us on the cobbles as he’s got a full-suspension mountain bike!

Relief!  At the top.

Relief! At the top.

How high?

How high?

A hug of relief

A hug of relief

Always eat bananas up mountains

Always eat bananas up mountains

 

The Gotthard pass marked the end of the substantial climbs of the trip, but there was still over 50 miles to go to Locarno so we decided to stay on the main road as it wasn’t too busy. The cobbled path was fine for an ascent, but is a bit too jarring to descent at speed on a road bike. The only down-side to this decision was the 1.6km tunnel early on in the descent. It started as a gallery with an open side, but there is an extended section which is completely enclosed and it quickly became too dark for my sunglasses. Trying to hurtle through as quickly as possible so you aren’t constantly being overtaken is fine, but with nothing protecting my eyes I was soon streaming. I didn’t see a way to avoid the tunnel but use the main road for the descent, but the remaining long straights and picturesque hairpins made our choice a good one. The road surface was generally excellent and allowed a safe build up of speed. I can’t tell Mum, but the GPS clocked over 50mph down one straight, which I think was the same time I was overtaken by a very shiny black Ferrari. It was a shame the GoPro’s battery died after the time-lapse recording of our ascent, because that descent was fun!

Hairpin speeding

Hairpin speeding

Entering the darkness

Entering the darkness

Coming down cautiously

Coming down cautiously

Bending into the hairpin

Bending into the hairpin

Exiting the tunnel

Exiting the tunnel

As we descended towards Airolo we started pausing with the support team more frequently, taking longer breaks, and generally just winding down. Glancing at the GPS showed we weren’t making as good progress as we needed so unfortunately we had to part company with Ben for a short while to get back up to road-bike speeds. Just before we did I swapped bikes with Ben thinking “this will be easy, I’ve been cycling for the past two weeks”, but keeping up with Jen, Meg and Ben on roadies with 1.75″ knobbly tyres and road shoes with cleats on big flat pedals was arduous work and I felt pretty tired when we swapped back – good effort for keeping up with us Ben! Give me drop handlebars any day for long rides.

Lunch break

Lunch break

Weeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Weeeeeeeeeeeeee!

The Team

Almost there…maybe

Megan

Megan

Ryan

Ryan

Riding towards Bellinzona the heat started to feel oppressive. There was a thick cover of cloud and it looked a lot like we were going to get wet before the end. The humidity was right up there and we were more accustomed to a nice dry heat. At one point Jen started feeling dizzy so we had to pause just to make sure noone passed out. That would not have been a good end to the trip!

We were supposed to meet Ben and Sue in Bellinzona so Ben could ride the last section with us but we experienced the first technological failure of the trip: Megan’s phone died and ours were in the support vehicle. In the end we pushed on to Locarno but started feeling a little worried we were going to finish alone.

The stretch between Bellinzona and Locarno had a little sting in the tail and there were plenty of short sharp inclines before we arrived by Lago Maggiore. As soon as we hit the lake it started setting in that we’d made it.

We have finally arrived

We have finally arrived

Sue, Rico and Ben have been amazing and brought down Swiss flags and Union Jack bunting for us to cross the finish with. We must have looked pretty bizarre standing by the Locarno ferry terminal with cameras everywhere snapping away. There was time for a quick ice cream before I headed up the hill with Ben and jumped in the pool, with no intention of getting out before dinner.

Hello Locarno

Hello Locarno

So, what next? We’ve got a few hours before we have to set off on the long drive home, which will take Dad and Chris to Oxford, Bangor, Leeds and the Isle of Wight. There are too many photos and videos to even think about today, so it’ll have to be the pool. What a shame.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a huge thanks to everyone who’s helped us get here. Your donations have helped us raise over £2700 so far for the MS Trust and the Roy Castle Foundation, and the support we’ve received has really blown us away. Most nights we’ve been able to at least read the comments on the blog and Twitter, even if we weren’t able to reply to them, and knowing we had the support of everyone back home has done wonders for our morale and motivation.

 

The only way to sign off this post is with the biggest thanks of all to Dad and Chris. They’ve given up two weeks of “holiday” to set up and dismantle the team tent, feed us, clean up around us, provide us with timely suncream, food and water, provide emergency support when Jen’s knee has been at its worst, and everything else. Every day they were up before us and were working well after we’d arrived back in camp and got sorted out. Without their hard work and continued good humour there’s no way this trip could have succeeded, and running support is often a thankless task (we know we can be pretty demanding!).

Our amazing support team

Our amazing support team

 

The last "Lunge Photo of the Day" moment

The last “Lunge Photo of the Day” moment

Winner of Best Tan Lines Ever is....

Winner of Best Tan Lines Ever is….

 

A rest day after 36 miles to Interlaken

Enthusiastic after a wet start

Enthusiastic after a wet start

Today we cycled from Bern to Interlaken. We woke at 6:30 to cups of tea and the sound of rain. A quick check of the weather forecast revealed a mixed bag. One forecast said it would be light rain today and then thunderstorms for the next two days. yr.no said it would be thunderstorms today, improving for the next couple of days. This left us with a bit of a gamble: do we risk poor weather and do a half day to Interlaken, or push on and attempt the bigggest day of the trip? In the end we opted for a shorter day because Jen’s knees started to play up again.

The ride out of Bern was fairly pleasant. By the time we’d got kitted up and set off it had stopped raining, and pottering around at 12mph wasn’t fast enough to kick up all the standing water. Although we didn’t see the sun for the entire ride, it was a nice change to be cycling in 21 degrees rather than 30. Limiting the ride to just over 30 miles also meant we only needed to stop once for food.

Entering the Bernese Oberland

Entering the Bernese Oberland, our first proper glimpse of the alps

We were supposed to do 32 miles, but a minor detour in Thun took us to a crossing… a rowing boat crossing. Turn around, back into Thun and cross to the right side of the river before pressing on.

The northern side of Thunersee lake is great terrain to ride. There were one or two too many lorries, but gently climbing and descending meant the views were constantly changing.

Around the northern side of Thunersee

Around the northern side of Thunersee, 8 miles from Interlaken

We arrived at Manor Farm campsite before 12:00, the earliest finish of the trip. This campsite has by far the most convoluted pricing system I’ve ever seen, and every pitch has a different price. After setting up we went for a quick swim in the lake before settling in for some last minute photos of the passes to come to get Megan and Jen excited!

The local weather forecast is now that the storms are likely to come in the evenings, so we need an early start tomorrow. This has the added advantage of getting as far as possible in the cool of the morning if the sun does come out.

Descending down to Interlaken, looking forward to a swim in the lake

Descending down to Interlaken, looking forward to a swim in the lake

Catching a local

Catching a local

Looking out over Around the northern side of Thunersee, towards Interlaken

Looking out over Around the northern side of Thunersee, towards Interlaken

We’re in Bern, whoop!

Today I got up and had five Weetabix again. Getting ready for the days ride involves eating a fair amount of food before getting sorted with suncream, lunches, contact lenses and filled bottles. It’s nice once you’re on the bike and don’t have to keep running through a mental to-do list! Last night we got to bed before 9pm, so with nearly 10 hours sleep we all felt pretty rejuvenated and the start was quite prompt.

Climbing out of Delamont

Climbing out of Delamont

Riding out through Delemont in the cool morning air was a nice change from the hot, sticky afternoon air we arrived in. The only hill climb of note was on the far side of the town, leading up through a winding valley before cutting down to Biel.

It was absolutely amazing to start riding in mountainous terrain, and this climb was kind to us and didn’t get too steep. We arrived at the top with an average speed of around 12mph, with only a couple of short breaks (one of which saw Jen attempt to propel a banana skin into the undergrowth only for it to end up perched on a tree branch ten feet directly above us!).

It's getting hot

It’s getting hot

The descent down to Biel had a section of cycle path alongside a fast dual carriageway, which included a couple of tunnels. Perhaps it was the fear, but we made it through at twice our normal speed. We had met a couple of friendly local cyclists at the top, who warned us in advance which helped.

Leaving the hills behind

Leaving the hills behind

The afternoon saw us slow down considerably. It must have been well over 30 degrees and the heat sapped our energy a bit. What was supposed to have been a 2pm finish ended up being closer to 4pm, although we did have to add on a couple of extra miles because our intended campsite didn’t exist!

More strategic planning

More strategic planning

Making good progress near Biel

Making good progress near Biel

 

Today the Garmin Oregon 600 gave us a few problems. It reset itself a couple of times and I ended up doing this at the side of the road:

Programming the GPS

Programming the GPS

As the Internet failed us the other day, here’s a little video I made as we climbed the Ballon d’Alsace a couple of days ago:

We're having a great time!

We’re having a great time!

Some more hills

Day 11: Bayon to Masevaux

Today we got the first taste of hill climbing and what the alps has to come. After a long discussion we came to the conclusion that Jen would have to jump in the car for the Ballon d’Alsace, a 7% incline over 8km, to save her knee. Fortunately the rest of the day was set to be gently undulating so we could make good time through the first 70 miles.

We had a little issue with the Garmin GPS when we set off. In the Basecamp app we had the whole day planned out. On the GPS it looked fine until we set off when it instantly started re-routing. Fortunately the end result was roughly the same mileage and elevation gain, even if it did take us a completely different way. This came just after a huge issue last night, when we thought for about an hour that we’d lost the OpenStreetMap maps of Europe from the GPS. I won’t bore anyone with the details, but at one point I had the Macbook Pro booted into recovery mode fixing disk permissions. What fun!

The Ballon d’Alsace is a great little climb. Apparantly (and I’ve not got access to Google to back any of this up) it’s a famous ascent and has been used as part of the Tour de France. It’s a pretty steady 7% all the way, and there are kilometer markers for motivation. Megan was getting quite worried in the lead-up because she felt a little low on energy and had built up the climb in her mind. Once we hit the hill though everything went smoothly. Megan settled into a steady pace and made it to the top quickly. Jen, who had intended to get picked up at the bottom, made it all the way with a little encouragement. It was a great effort from both of them and very encouraging for the alps. To celebrate, there was ice cream at the top! The descent was great with mostly good road surface, but 1/3 of the way down the GoPro mount sheared and it bounced down the road a little. It’s fine (good engineering GoPro!) but the mount is shocking considering it’s specifically designed for handlebars (poor engineering GoPro).

Jen’s knee is still giving her problems, but the terrain over the past few days has been very forgiving. If we had to ride through Shropshire for 2 weeks it would have been game over for Jen, but the eastern route through France is perfect for cycling and doesn’t throw too many steep hills at you.

I would love to add a load of detail about the rest of the day, but a minor navigational error at the top of the Ballon resulted in us shooting off the wrong side and ending up with an additional 10 miles to ride to the camp. Making the day 90 miles in total wasn’t so bad, but it’s the last thing you want to do when you expect to coast for 10 miles into the campsite. As a result we’re a little late getting sorted out and it’s already past bedtime!

The next three days are deliberately shorter so we can get a bit of energy for the big alpine days. With no more than 60 miles per day we should be feeling fit and energetic for the fourth when we have to tackle the Grimsel pass and Furka pass setting off from Interlaken. We’re meeting family in Andermatt that evening so there’s an added incentive to arrive early.

Here’s a couple of photos from today (camping wifi isn’t video friendly unfortunately):

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Megan ... on the way up !

Megan … on the way up !

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On the way up !

On the way up !

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Very promising!

Very promising!

Day 10 : Verdun – Bayon 82 miles. Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A relativley short and sweet post from Megan for now. We finished the day on a snappy 82 miles in roughly 7 hours. Today has been really quite fun in comparison to the previous hard, long days. We had some incredibly fun long sweeping descents on some really smooth roads. Long flat straights and fast downhill runs meant that we had a very good average pace this morning of about 13mph. There were a couple of hills thrown in for good measure, and Jen’s knee has behaved itself today, so all in all a very well deserved good day with positive results. The fast day meant that we got to meet our wonderful support team , Dad and Uncle Chris, at a rough 3/4 point for some quick snacks and suncream replenishment, and then we set off to finish the last 30 miles of the day. We finished the day at roughly 4pm so we’ve had a lovely long afternoon and evening to rest, relax and recuperate in preparation for a VERY big day tomorrow.

So foods prepared, stretching sessions have been carried out and everything is ready for our start tomorrow morning . Hoping to set out at 8am for a 83 mile day that consists of 60 miles of undulating hills over the French countryside, and we will be finishing the day on a very challenging note, by climbing the Route De Ballons / Ballons de Voges. This particular route is 1,000 metres of ascent over a distance of 10km .

Ryan, obviously could eat this for breakfast, Jen is nursing her bad knee but is ever optimistic  and I, Megan, am quite apprehensive, but excited all the same.

Of course, as hard and as challenging as tomorrow may be , it will be peanuts compared to the three alpine passes that are coming our way in the next few days . All in good fun !!! This is what all the high resitance and hill training has been about ! come at me !!

Wish us luck !!! XXX

 

Megan xx

 

PS Here are just a few snaps for you to enjoy !! 😀 Sorry theyre not captioned and categorised ,  but im a very tired monkey and need to sleep !

 

BONNE NUIT

 

 

 

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Half way across France

Post by Jen, photo legwork and interblogopipage by Ryan:

We have now made it to Verdun and are at our third French campsite and 256 miles in to France. In total we have now cycled 641 miles, with a total elevation ascent of 9906 m. If we were cycling 24 hours a day, we’d have so far cycled for three and a half days straight. Thankfully we’re not cycling all day, we give ourselves a few hours sleep a night.

Day 7 of cycling saw us set off from St Omer and cover 93.6 miles. The skies were completely clear and temperatures reached 30 degrees. With very little shade we were all soon melting. We cycled well for the first 30 miles but after a particularly busy section, through a major intersection and a few hills, my knee completely gave up and we had to stop until I regained some movement. The rest of the team were great supporting me, especally Ryan, who also has to navigate us as well as look out for me.

We arrived at the campsite in Frasnoy to find ourselves surrounded by very enthusiastic kids, one of whom asked Ryan if we were part of the Tour de France. I don’t know much French, but I think he said we weren’t!

One great thing about cycling through France at the moment is that lots of people are enthusistically cheering us on as we pass…and occasionlly just yelling “Tour de France!!” at us in a very relaxed French manner. It creates a great atmosphere.

Day 8 was our second big day of cycling in a row, with 84 miles planned from the campsite in Frasnoy to Attigny. The morning was the best yet of the trip, as it was overcast and quite cold – such a relief after these hot temperatures. For the first time since day one we needed to wear jackets for the morning. Around lunchtime the sun came out with a vengence, but we also had a good tailwind for a portion of the journey, which really upped our overall speed.

We also had our first experience of cycling on cobbles, a somewhat unpleasant experience that I’m in no hurry to repeat!

About 10 miles away from the campsite I stopped to stretch my knee out a bit, which was lucky because we noticed a text from the support team saying the campsite had been changed as it was no good, we now had to head in a slightly different direction. Lucky we stopped really, or we would have turned up to find a field without any camping and our beds no where to be found.

The last 10 miles were excruciating for me. My knee seems to flucuate between mildly uncomfortable and incredibly painful, which is fine as long as it goes back down to the less painful side again… unfortunately sometimes it just refuses! I have never been more happy to arrive at a campsite than I was yesterday, it was a relief to be able to sit down with an ice block on my knee. I think we’ve accepted that my knee is unlikely to get better on this trip as it probably needs a good month of rest. I intend to keep going until I absolutely have to stop, but for the moment I’m being helped along by all this wonderful team, and my friends Ibuprofen, Codeine, Ibuprofen gel, Deep Freeze, ice, compression knee support and lots and lots of chocolate chip brioche.

Day 9 was a half rest day for us, with only 55 miles to do in the morning, before we could take the whole afternoon off. We made it to Verdun around 2pm after quite a nice morning. My knee didn’t really hurt that much, with only a few twinges towards the end of the cycle, so we could make some good speed. We were able to get some rest this afternoon whilst preparing our lunch, drinks, and the route for tomorrow.

The plan for tomorrow is 77.5 miles, though we still need to work out if the campsite we’re headed towards actually exists. Hopefully we will be able to update more tomorrow, if we have an internet connection.

Here’s a few pictures from the past few days:

Wednesday's lunge photo

Wednesday’s lunge photo

Almost there?

Almost there?

Megan sprinting

Megan sprinting

More hill climbing

More hill climbing

Megan at the top of a hill, somewhere.

Megan at the top of a hill, somewhere.

Jen pushing through

Jen pushing through

Thursday's Lunge photo (it's not falling... honest)

Thursday’s Lunge photo (it’s not falling… honest)

Support team Ahoy!

Support team Ahoy!

Jen in lovely (flatish) winding roads in Meuse

Jen in lovely (flatish) winding roads in Meuse