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.

Day 15 – Interlaken to Andermatt . Grimselpass and Furkapass

Where to start? Today has been the single most challenging day of my entire life. However, reaching the top of both Grimselpass and Furkapass climbing a total of 2,777 metres on a continous incline at gradients varying from 7-10%, has to be the single most rewarding and momentous achievement of my entire life.

There were terrifying, hairy moments with sheer clif drops, big loud scary lorries and huge gusts of winds that shot my nerves to shreds, but having Ryan there with me reassuring me along the way, and constantly encouraging me to press on kept me going until I got to the top. We also had our wonderful support team leapfrogging us up the passes, stopping to take photos of us on the crazy hairpin bends and supplying us with ample water and energy-filled snacks.
There were moments when I questioned whether I could actually reach the top, my legs felt like they might explode and my fear kept creeping up and creating a lump in my throat. (which makes it extremely hard to breathe may I add). Ryan, Jen, Dad and Uncle Chris were all there to cheer me on , and I am so pleased that they half encouraged/ half bullied (Ryan) me to push on. Today, I learnt a whole new meaning of the term “tough love”.
Ryan was absolutely fantastic today, I really can’t stress that enough. Considering he could probably demolish both passes in half the time we did them in, he stuck by me the whole way, pacing me , reassuring me that I could do it and at one point even peeled a banana for me and instructed me how to eat it (As i was too tired and couldnt remember how to!)
After a very hilly start to the day, after we took the route on the opposite side of Lake Brienz. Our intended route was relativly flat, and our actual route turned out to be very hilly. Jen, despite her painful knee, was a trooper, and we had a great average pace which made for a prompt arival at the bottom of Grimselpass. She then became a member of the Team Pedal support team for the duration of the climbs, taking some awesome photos and shouting some much needed encouragment from the windows as they drove past us !
After climbing Grimselpass, we had a short decsent and then climbed Furkapass straight after. After that climb we had the exciting reward of having a welcome party at the top. Our Auntie Sue and cousin Ben, made the journey from Locarno (our final destination) to Furkapass to welcome us !!
After a short decsent to Andermatt (for which I had to sit in the car because my nerves were shot and i was absolutely terrified- the Furkapass roads have the most ridiculous “barriers” i have ever seen in my life)
We have now set up camp in Andermatt and are enjoying our last night of camp before our last day of the trip !

Just a little note – we have just had 2 wonderful strangers, from Wales, knock on our tent and commend us on our venture and offering a donation. The kindness of strangers knows no bounds 🙂
All in all I would like to say a massive thankyou to Everyone for such wonderful words of support and encouragment.
A huge well Done to my fellow team pedalers, and tomorrow .. let’s go out in style.
St. Gotthards pass then onto Locarno . Ryan , Jen .. let’s do it 🙂 XX

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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!

Thanks, a last minute appeal, and GoPro testing

On Thursday we set off for our 1000 mile cycle to Switzerland. We’ve made good progress with sponsorship but we still need a bit more to reach our targets so spread the word and gently coerce everyone into helping out!

We’ve been helped along the way by too many people to list, and we haven’t even set off yet, so if you’ve provided technical assistance, gadgetry, donations, moral support or even just friendly banter: cheers! Your reward is getting to see me looking silly for a couple of minutes… enjoy:

Getting keen for rollers

I have my bike back! For now at least. After spending yesterday evening fitting the replacement headset, brake pads and giving the rest of the bike a bit of TLC this evening was good for a quick ride to blow out the cobwebs.

With the rain and wind tearing at my motivation I gave in and had a two hour session on the rollers instead. This evenings in-flight entertainment was Serenity, and I’m quickly working my way through unseen actiony fodder to help burn the hours away.

The rollers are great because they build up balance and core control as well as working your legs, and they take a hell of a lot more concentration.

It’s not that rollers aren’t fun (they’re not), but sitting in the same place quickly loses its edge. To keep interested I need to set little challenges along the way.

Today’s challenge was to become able to look sideways without falling off, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts trying to talk to Konrad I managed it a whole minute each way. I’m pretty impressed that Konrad didn’t fire pencils at me continuously! For five bonus points I managed a whole 30 seconds with no hands.

Portable Interblogopipes

Our forthcoming cycling adventure to Switzerland from North Wales is almost upon us. It has fallen to me, as the geekiest of the group, to sort out anything technology-related for the trip, and this week’s task is to get an Internet connection sorted so we can blog progress updates at the end of the day.

Some campsites will have WiFi, which eases the problem. Some will only have mobile internet and some will have neither. Aside from the usual hardening of the laptop connected to the wireless network there’s not a great deal to be done for the first or last options.

There are a few sites, for example http://prepaidwithdata.wikia.com/wiki/Prepaid_SIM_with_data which lists the various options available for mobile data in your target country. The best offer at present appears to be £50 (plus a £10 set-up fee) for 3Gb of data, which is valid for 30 days. This is still quite an investment, and I’m not convinced that we will need that much data given the use of WiFi when it’s available. This offer also isn’t valid for smartphones, so you need a mobile internet dongle at extra cost.

With that in mind we’ve decided to use EE’s roaming data add-on which provides 200Mb for £30. I can then use my iPhone as an access point so we can use the Macbook Pro to author blog posts.

This should be more than enough bandwidth if we’re thoughtful about how we use it. With that in mind I’m preparing the following to make life easier while we’re there:

  1. Offline maps. We’ve downloaded the map tiles for the route from OpenFietsMap (http://www.openfietsmap.nl/) which provides bike-specific OpenStreetMap maps for download. These are loaded into Garmin Basecamp, which is a bit cumbersome but means we can do map routing and elevation profiles without using data.
  2. Image resizer. I normally use Pixelmator to resize images, but Mac OSX has a handy workflow utility which means you can automatically resize/resample photos. When you’re on WiFi uploading a 4Mb image isn’t a problem, but for our daily progress reports a 200Kb image is more appropriate. Once we’re back to WiFi we can put some higher-resolution images up.
  3. Video re-encoder. We’ll probably upload videos only when we’ve got a WiFi connection, but just in case there’s something we really want to share I’ve figured out how to use Camtasia to resize and reencode the video so it looks good but is small enough not to use the entire bandwith allowance.

One of the biggest problems when you’re concerned about going over a data allowance is that when you connect a laptop to the Internet it goes off and checks for updates, lets Apple know that iTunes is there, and so on. I have a handy tool installed on my Macbook Pro called Little Snitch, which acts as a firewall and keeps an eye on all your outgoing Internet connections. Normally we think of firewalls as protecting what comes in to the computer, but to make sure every last bit of data is saved I’ve created a special profile which doesn’t allow any outgoing connections except for mDNSResponder (otherwise DNS doesn’t work) and Chrome. When that profile’s active nothing except Chrome is connected to the network, so I’m not going to automatically start doing a backup of my entire machine in the middle of a campsite in France. Winner.

Little Snitch Chrome rules

Only allowing network traffic from Chrome in your firewall keeps your usage down.

In other news my components turned up today so the bike is back together, just in time for a good bout of rain. Fortunately I have rollers! While I was reassembling the bike I gave the forks a good test, pushing and pulling them against the frame. Although everything was flush and tight, and there was no play to be felt, I could make out the sound of grease moving ever so slightly. I’m not feeling confident! If the new stem and headset, and full strip-down doesn’t fix it I’m giving up and taking it to a local bike shop.

An unexpected rest

After an amazing ride on Thursday this weekend has been suprisingly inert, with the end result being two beautifully sunny days and zero miles covered.

Bike by Llyn Mymbyr (Plas y Brenin)

Stopping for a swim at Llyn Mymbyr (Plas y Brenin) on the way home (ish) from work

The ongoing headset saga

For the past few months I’ve been tackling a recurring problem with my headset, which connects the forks to the frame of the bike. Even after being tightened it only takes 30-40 miles before there’s play again and the forks can be rocked backwards and forwards slightly.

I have tried the “just carry on” approach, but found to my peril that even a small amount of play in the headset translates to “AAAARRRGHH I’M GOING TO DIEEEEEEEE” when braking from 40 mph downhill. Not doing that again.

Working my way through forums and flame wars it seems that the cause of recurring play in headsets can be narrowed down to:

  1. Stem too loose
  2. Headset not compressed enough prior to stem tightening
  3. No carbon assembly paste
  4. Too many spacers
  5. The stem (though I didn’t find a good reason why)
  6. Crown race not flush against the fork crown
  7. Magic voodoo, because you don’t own a £3000 bike (or because you do)

Prior to this weekend I had worked my way through options 1 to 4, with no real improvement. Replacing the stem seemed a bit of a long shot, but I have been loaned a spare stem to see for sure. I also stripped down the fork and re-seated the crown race.

The crown race did look a little wonky (although I am good at finding faults in perfection) so I’m hoping that will have solved it, but I did the sensible thing and took the bearings out of the headset to check them as well (just in case).

The downside to this sensibility is that I removed the lower bearing in an “alternative manner”, i.e. I fired 100 tiny balls of steel to all four corners of the garage, never to be seen again. Having rendered my bike immobile I now have to wait for my new headset to turn up to see if the maintenance worked!

I found this setback really hard to take, having been worn down by the maintenance required before every ride just to get rid of the shaking for a few miles. It’s only a few weeks before we set off so every mile and every session counts, and to be off the bike for the best part of a week is heartbreaking. Fortunately there are a hundred other tasks I’ve been neglecting while my routine has been bike, rollers, bike, bike, rollers; so now is a good time to focus on those things, and route planning is this evening’s task.

All things being equal I should be back on the road by Thursday evening, ready for a big weekend with Megan visiting on Sunday.

Double puncture fun

I should really have known better than to write a blog post about the perfect conditions and great cycling. If I were superstitious I’d be ranting about karma coming to get me, or something like that.

In fairness I’ve been exceptionally lucky with the weather recently. My last post centred around the Welsh micro-summer, and although it was significantly cooler this time round with a chill breeze the sun was still shining and I didn’t feel frostnip setting in! It’s a good job I haven’t been desparate for two days of riding, because (aptly-named) Sundays have been miserable, wet, windy affairs, quickly pushing out all memories of the sun.

Anglesey's picturesque coastline

Anglesey’s picturesque coastline, though it looks a lot warmer than it felt in the wind

During the last ride I made a maintenance to-do list of little niggles:

* The upper limit on the front deraillieur needs adjusting because it sheds the chain when changing to the largest front ring.
* The brake pads need replacing on the front.
* The headset needs to be replace to stop the excessive play.

Of course I got back and got sidetracked, and didn’t touch the bike for the week. The first item is pretty straightforward and isn’t too bad to work around. The other two caused a more substantial issue. When braking, the pads would pulse, binding and releasing a few times a second. This combined with the play in the headset to create a really unnerving situation where the front wheel moved foward and backward a couple of inches as the whole bike shook. Not optimal!

The route around Anglesey

A nice semi-coastal circuit… at least to start with.

Of course I didn’t realise any of this until after I’d set off. My original plan was to do a full circuit of Anglesey, which would come in at around 110 miles. My first impression of the route is that it’s a lot hillier than I expected, with the road winding towards the coast and then back inland, each time losing and re-gaining height. Not that any of that is a bad thing. The views were generally great, the roads quiet and the going good. There was a pretty consistant headwind which made things feel harder, but my average was still around 15mph.

That’s when disaster struck! I picked up a puncture on my front wheel near Cemaes Bay (near the top of Anglesey) so pulled over and started the timer. The innertube swap was seamless and I was feeling pretty good as I put the last 15 PSI in when the valve on the tube snapped in half, right through the thread. I’ve never seen that before.

The offending valve, shortly after it messed with "The Fury"

The offending valve, shortly after it messed with “The Fury”

I rarely pick up punctures (the last one I had was probably a year ago) so I only carry a single spare inner tube, along with some Park Tool self-adhesive patches in case I get a second puncture. This left my in a bit of a poor state when I couldn’t find the source of the leak in the first tube but had little choice but to put it back in and pump it up.

Needless to say I beat a direct route back down the A5 towards home, stopping every five to ten minutes to put some more air in. It was surprising the effect stopping regularly had on me, and the return leg felt many times harder because of it.

The trip taught me a little about how I handle adversity, but the big lesson is that there’s more to cycling than just spinning legs. Knowing how to handle breakdowns and improvise is just as important, otherwise you can be stuck miles from home having to give up an call for help!

Another thing I noticed was that things felt generally harder because I’d not carbo-loaded the night before. It’s easy to fix that for the next training ride, but it provides some insight into how we’ll be a few days into the trip. Once we’re into the cycle (excuse the pun) of replenishing energy in the evening how easy will it be to take on the extra carbs to be fully stocked for the next day.

The Menai Bridge

The Menai Bridge

So now I’m back I’ve stripped down the bike and removed the headset to try to find a replacement, though it’s not as simple as I’d expected. It appears my bike has an obscure set of dimensions which don’t match any standards so after an evening of measuring, Googling, measuring again and scratching my head, I’ve given up and got in touch with Wiggle, who I’m hoping will prove their worth again and get me back on the road. No pressure Wiggle, but it’s the team training weekend coming up, so it needs to be back up and running by Friday evening!

In the absence of being able to work on the bike, I’ve been thinking about potential routes for the weekend. The plan is (roughly) to go to Leeds for Saturday and then to return to Wales for Sunday to get around some logistical problems caused by Jen’s car needing some TLC. The day in Snowdonia is easy (and one of my favourite local loops): a 32 mile loop from Bethesda to Llanberis, Capel and home. Saturday is a little trickier as I’ve not lived there for years. Yet again Google Street View will come in handy!

Now that we’re into the final countdown (not the kazoo version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Btg7lFlig) it’s really pushing me to get my ducks in a row ready for the weekends so I can guarantee a big ride. It’s time to step it up a bit though, so once the bike’s better I need to start evening rides. These are much easier when it’s an extended trip home, so it’s time to get the drybag and rear rack out and start commuting. 15 miles extra a day will definitely help out, and if I managed 350 miles outside in April what will May bring?

The shortest summer on record

On Saturday I completed my first substantial solo ride of the year: ~90 miles from Bangor to Llanrwst, Denbigh, St Asaph and home. For the first 65 miles I was pondering this blog post and thinking about how I could word a careful apology. After all, we’re going on about training, hardship and challenge. The problem was that nothing really felt like “training”, not for the first two thirds at least.

Genevieve, my trusty steed!

Genevieve, my trusty steed! Cable-tying my jacket above the bottle cage worked pretty well.

Sure, I was pushing myself and trying to maintain a reasonable pace. And true, I wasn’t hanging around taking pictures or jumping in icy rivers to cool down, but when you’re cruising along quiet B-roads in the countryside with a perfect blue sky and no wind it doesn’t get much better. It certainly doesn’t feel like training and feels a lot more like a great thing to do on a perfect day.

This was my first time riding east of Llanrwst with the exception of the coastal route to Chester, and every hill I crested led to an even more amazing view. The rolling hills strike a marked contrast to the Ogwen valley’s aggressiveness, and I had to make a conscious effort to keep looking at the road and not the countryside.

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged

Above Llanrwst towards Llanddoged. It became much hillier after this point.

Spring (at least when we get the sunny portions) has got to be my favourite time to ride. There’s so much going on around you as you pass through different areas, and at the moment there’s plenty of young lambs running around, fields being bashed, rolled, ploughed and prepared, building work, and so on to keep you thinking.

I planned the route the night before, and came up with a few options, mostly staying within the confines of Snowdonia. This route piqued my interest though because it was predominantly in areas I didn’t know, and calm, sunny days are the best to go exploring. Google Street View is now in my list of indispensable tools for cycling and probably helped me save half an hour over the course of the day by looking at each major turn I needed to make in advance. I didn’t try to commit each one to memory like I did the town names I was passing through, but each time I’d be riding along and think “this looks familiar” before seeing the turn and taking it. No faff, far less map-checking and generally improved enjoyment that comes with the confidence that you’re on the right track.

Needing to check the map

Needing to check the map. This junction beat me and I had to resort to the map.

The one big mistake I did make, and am still paying for, was forgetting sun cream. As I pootled down towards Aber I remembered and thought “aah, I’m not going back now, I faffed too much before I set off”. Bad Idea. My arms and legs are still bright red two days on, with razor sharp lines where my jersey, shorts, gloves and socks end. It did make me think about how ridiculous we’re going to look when we arrive in Locarno. Fingerless gloves are going to leave an interesting semi-permanent tan.

So the questions is: what happened after 66 miles which made it feel like training? The answer is two-fold: Conwy council and a lack of food. The latter wasn’t too serious, but I took half a sandwich too few so spent the last hour feeling like it was harder work than it should have been. Lesson learned. The former was much less pleasant.

Whenever I’ve cycled the national cycle route from Bangor to Chester I’ve always headed up through Old Colwyn towards Llysfaen, skipping out the Colywn Bay seafront. This was generally not on purpose. On the way home I thought I’d follow the front, but was quickly disappointed as the cyclepath deteriorated from high-quality smooth tarmac to a broken, rough, uneven path which weaved around lampposts making it clear the cycle lane was an unimportant afterthought. In fairness some sections had good intentions, with one including a cycle lane separated from the road and the pedestrian area with low concrete bollards, but the thin layer of red tarmac that was applied to make the cycle lane obvious has rapidly fallen into disrepair, and was so juddery I came out the other side with bruised palms and a sore back.

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas

Perfect cycle path at Llanddulas. If only Colwyn Bay was like this!

Overall a great day out, and once I’d eaten and recovered definitely felt like another day would be feasible. Of course the “Welsh summer” had something to say about it and Sunday morning was a windy rainfest of epic proportions. Fingers’ crossed for another few days like that before we set off!