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.

Advertisements

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

Here’s a few pics ! :

IMG_3186 copy

IMG_3190 copy

IMG_3241 copy

IMG_3247 copy

IMG_3311 copy

IMG_3332 copy

IMG_3335 copy

IMG_3398 copy

IMG_3424 copy

IMG_3466 copy

IMG_3476 copy

IMG_3479 copy

IMG_3515 copy

IMG_3529 copy

IMG_3544 copy

IMG_3562 copy

IMG_3605 copy

IMG_3627 copy

IMG_3632 copy

IMG_3678 copy

IMG_3704 copy

IMG_3710 copy

IMG_3732 copy

IMG_3735 copy

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):

IMG_2780 copy

Megan ... on the way up !

Megan … on the way up !

IMG_2875 copy IMG_2888 copy IMG_2902 copy IMG_2948 copy

On the way up !

On the way up !

IMG_3008 copy

Very promising!

Very promising!

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

A friend with knees is a friend indeed

Team Pedal, complete and in Dover

Team Pedal, complete and in Dover

We’re in France! We weren’t lucky enough to have internet last night so here’s the progress from the past couple of days. Jen and Megan have finally made way for me to write an update, so grab yourself some hot chocolate and settle in for the long haul.

Yesterday was day 5, and the second big day in a row since Jen’s knee went. Things didn’t start particularly well when I realised the route I’d painstakingly planned in on the laptop hadn’t been transferred to the GPS, so I had to organise a new route hunched over the 3″ GPS display. After leaving Blacklands campsite (http://www.blacklandsfarm.co.uk/) (who generously donated to the team and had great facilities) we made a good pace, and our slightly-before-mid-point of Tunbridge Wells drew closer and closer. The route through Sussex and Kent has been picturesque, and it’s a shame we couldn’t spend longer touring around the back roads and checking out the many sights we had to shoot past, but we are on a mission so there’s no time to lose.

We met the support team in Tunbridge Wells and stocked up on suncream and water, as well as giving Jen’s knee a much-needed ice session. While sat at a set of traffic lights someone from a couple of cars back had dashed up to our car, thrust in £20 and said “Good luck!”. There have been so many incidents like this that it’s been a really great experience travelling through the UK and we’ve all been blown away by the support we’ve seen.

Jen pushing on near Folkstone

Jen pushing on near Folkstone

Unfortunately our day took a turn for the worse, and with around 40 miles to go Jen’s knee went on the pain scale from 2 (out of 10) to 8. We were about 3/4 of the way up our second major hill climb, which apparantly gets used for the Tour de France, so limped off the side of the road and took refuge outside the Green Cross Inn (URL). We owe them a pint or two because as soon as we arrived they offered a bag of ice and a teatowel, and didn’t mind at all that we were obviously cheapskate cyclists with our own food. Dad and Chris arrived a couple of minutes later with more Voltarol gel and some giant ibuprofen. When the pain had subsided a little we pushed on, but made (literally) painfully slow progress until 3 miles out of Folkstone when Jen’s knee gave up for the day and brought us to a grinding halt. Anyone struggling to choose who to sponsor should definitely pick Jen (http://www.justgiving.com/Jen-Gallagher1) who’s not just having to do a huge distance each day but is also going through a fair amount of hardship at the same time.

Expert medical aid at the Green Cross Inn

Expert medical aid at the Green Cross Inn

Day 6 has been much easier, and we had time to meet up with Barry, a family friend and who works for Dover Community Radio (http://www.dovercommunityradio.co.uk/). We got a couple of great team photos and a quick radio interview, as well as a long overdue catch up.

We did cheat a little here, and had to jump in the car to get through customs and onto the ferry. We had intended to cycle those 500m, but thought an extra £90 was a little extortionate for such a short distance. We’ll make it up by making a wrong turn somewhere!

Cycling to our current campsite near St Omer was an absolute pleasure. With less than 200m of height gain it was a welcome relief to Jen and we made the campsite in good time, ready for an afternoon off. I did find that leading the group around Calais I was constantly second guessing myself. Am I on the right side of the road? Is this guy going to give way to me? Am I going the wrong way down a one-way street? Once we hit the countryside I was much more relaxed and settled in to a gentle pace. So far French drivers have given us a good wide berth even on busy roads. Maybe it’s a good thing we’ve got English text all over our cycling lycra – everyone just assumes we have no idea what we’re doing and steers clear!

Cycle on the right...

Cycle on the right…

So we’re now 408 miles into the trip, with roughly 680 to go. We have climbed around 1500m most days, totalling 6742m, and have cycled for approximately 55 hours (including stops). With the exception of our start in North Wales it’s been brilliant sun and clear skies, and we’ve cycled through the hottest day of 2013 so far. Fortunately noone’s burned, and we’re building up some excellent (read: ridiculous) tans. So far we’ve had 3 punctures (so far Jen is winning the “best deflation sound” award) and I’m turning them around in under 5 minutes. It was definitely worth the practice.

Pretty much every update we write needs to have a huge thanks to the support team. Chris and Dad have worked tirelessly to make and break camp, keep us fed and watered, shadow us taking pictures and being on hand for emergency calls when injuries need tending to. When they volunteered I’m sure they were under the impression that they’d have hours to kill and could go off on little adventures. Little did they realise they’d be working harder than us!

Tonight we sit here optimistic. There are hurdles ahead and we’re at the behest of Jen’s knee, but the hills for the next couple of days are likely to be fewer and gentler. We have two big days (80-100 miles each) before our next half day.

Nice flat roads in Northern France

Nice flat roads in Northern France