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 ūüôā
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 ūüôā XX

Here’s a few pics ! :

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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:

Crimea Pass, Bumble bees and Pecan Pie.

I have mixed emotions towards the three elements of this blog title.

Take Bumble bees for example, I can cope with them if they bumble on past me about a meter away. They’re better than wasps, worse than flies, but I can cope. I can’t, however, cope with Bumble bees crashing into my face, about 2cm from my mouth, when I’m sailing down a long hill at 30mph. The small bug felt more like a tennis ball.

Crimea pass, I can cope with when It’s a Welsh name said in passing conversation when Ryan’s talking me through the route I’m taking that day. Crimea is also an okay word when described in a sentence as “rather pleasant”. I eventually found out that Crimea Pass is actually a pretty substantial hill climb from Betws-y-coed towards¬†Blaenau¬†Ffestiniog.

So Saturday after work, my parents and I drove over to North Wales to see my brothers and to enable me and Ryan to get an impromptu Team Pedal training day in on the sunday. When we¬†arrived¬† Ryan had some bad news that he had pulled his back and it was causing him a considerable amount of pain . In the hope that it would be better in the morning we planned a 100 mile route ¬†out on the A5 towards Bala and back towards¬†Caernarfon¬†and home again . We talked a bit about the ride, and current training and preparation for our big ride to Switzerland as it is only 2 and a¬†half¬†weeks away now! It was also a great¬†opportunity¬†to have us all in one room discussing the finer details of day to day camping life on the trip; i.e. what kind of meals we’ll be having , what time we aim to be finished cycling for the day and how many euros we’re planning on taking the fund the trip. So all in all a good excuse for a good chin wag. We headed to bed at about midnight and set alarms for 7.45 the next ¬†morning , hoping to be out by 9am for a long ride. Sadly , Ryan’s back was no better in the morning, and was in fact a lot stiffer. After he attempted a slow climb onto the bike, he concluded that he couldn’t go out on a ride, and that I would in fact have to go out ALONE.¬†Now, whilst I do enjoy cycling alone, it’s nowhere near as enjoyable as it with Ryan and Jen. Setting off on a long ride, it’s also much more daunting when I’m attempting it alone.

I set out on a roughly 80 mile route following the A5 down to Betws-y-coed and then following A roads in a biiiig loop around Snowdon back towards home again.

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The first leg of the A5 was a little disheartening as it took me a little while to fully warm up, and I had to stop twice to adjust my cleats on my shoes. After a rocky start, I set a good pace of 15-17mph and got stuck in. I have a mini-tradition (as in I’ve now done it twice.) that I stop for a photo at Llyn Ogwen. It’s too pretty not to.

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Whilst I was out on this ride, there was also a pretty major racing event taking place around Snowdonia; The Etape Eryri – The Snowdonia Sportive. Upside to this was the roads were full of cyclists and it was a really great atmosphere, at one point I was cycling down the A5 into Betws-y-coed, whilst the race was trudging uphill in the other direction which made me obnoxiously thankful ( even though I was fully aware that , to go down a hill , means at some point you WILL have to go back up). Downsides to this, I hate to say it, were that on several occasions is seemed to me that traffic assumed that ALL cyclists were travelling in that one direction, thus missing me completely and cutting me up. One traffic flow officer was actually waving a car across in front of me , and I had to shout to make her aware of my presence. By this point the car had already pulled out halfway into the road. Anyway, busy atmosphere, busy roads, all to be expected. All in¬†valuable¬†experience I guess. It’s safe to say as well that throughout the day I got pretty tired of doing the “Cyclist-nod” to every single cyclist who passed me. It would be rude not to, of course.

 

Crimea Pass

Crimea Pass

So , as I mentioned earlier, Crimea Pass…. a very, very, very, long hill from Betws-y-coed up to Blaenau Ffestiniog. To say I wasn’t expecting it would be a gross understatement. I would say “you’d have thought Ryan would’ve warned me” but really, I know better. In a way I’m glad he didn’t, I think my lack of dread, and my sudden surge of fearful energy got me partially up the pass with some optimism and vigour. I then settled into what I like to call my “all day pace” and eventually reached the top. I had to stop and take a photo part-way up , but sadly the photo doesn’t really do the pass justice.

Crimea Pas up to Bleaneu Ffestiniog

Crimea Pass up to Blaenau Ffestiniog

I wish I could remember all the finer details of my ride, as it really was an incredible route, and although after reaching the top of crimea,I sent Ryan a text simply saying :

“” ¬† “PLEASANT” were your words!. “”

..I actually really enjoyed the whole ride.

A view of Blaenau Ffestiniog

A view of Blaenau Ffestiniog

After reaching Blaenau I stopped for an essential bagel and banana as my energy was dwindling. Had to take a picture though of the WORLDS SMALLEST BANANA : (please note, I have quite small hands as it is.)

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I then went on to follow A roads into Porthmadog, Tremadog and finally Dolbenmaen before joining the national cycle route that took me to¬†Caernarfon. I had to play some music on my phone for a little while when I was on the cycle path. I found that silence ALL day ¬†just meant that I kept on either repeating or sometimes singing Welsh town names round and round in my head. “Blaenau Ffestiniog” was a popular tune of the day.

When I reached¬†Caernarfon (and the finish line of the race that was taking place that day) a couple of people clapped as I cycled past, thinking I was taking part in the big race around Snowdonia. I smiled sheepishly and thanked them, even though I hadn’t done even half the amount of hills that the racers had done. As I was cycling through I actually managed to spot the family out on their walk. My¬†initial¬†thought process was “awesome, cycling done, I’ve got a lift back”….then I realised the¬†likelihood¬†of that being kosher. After a quick hello, a chocolate orange ice cream and a quick dose of the awesome¬†atmosphere¬†of the aftermath of the race at the finish line I was back on my bike for the final 11 miles of my route. The sky was cloudy, it was attempting the rain and the green fly population was¬†rapidly¬†increasing.

I finished the day with two hills up from Tregarth towards Racub. Put every last ounce of energy into it, and ended the day pleased with what I’d done. My story¬†concludes¬†to this wonderful , wonderful ending. After cycling the 75 ish miles, it was ALL worth it because when I got home I had the promise of Luke’s speciality CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE ¬†waiting for me. YUM. Now that I can¬†definitely¬†cope with!!!

The days ride was awesome,¬†North Wales really is stunning, and I think that every time I visit it. ¬†Sunday’s ride was a huge¬†achievement¬†for me as it was the longest distance I’ve done alone without:

A) Getting lost    B) Falling off my bike    C) Ending up in the wrong city

So, overall, a good day, and great prep for the trip.

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I have Wednesday off work , so I’m planning a ride for that . Then this Saturday I’m running my 10K race for life with my friend, Lauren. Riding sunday will be interesting after the run, but it uses different muscles, so I’ll probably prefer cycling to walking anyway ! Then it’ll be the weeks rest before the Switzerland trip. It’s all coming around SO FAST!

xxx

 

Training & planning diary ‚Äď 3 weeks to go

The past week was an interesting one, in which I didn’t do as much outdoor cycling as I was expecting due to the pesky British weather.¬† I did however watch a lot of episodes of The West Wing (obviously whilst cycling indoors, though occasionally with a cup of tea and not on a bike) and I made myself a little more broke purchasing some much-needed kit for the trip.¬† Here’s a little round-up of what I got up to last week:

Monday 10th June
Today I didn’t get home from work until 7pm, due to covering a late shift.¬† So instead of going on a planned outing I attached the bike to the turbo trainer and attempted to do as many sprints up hill as I could manage.¬† I did an hour before I ran out of energy, pushing myself as hard as I could certainly builds up an appetite.

Miles cycled: 6.83 miles to work & back
Time on turbo trainer: 1 hour

Tuesday 11th June
With all the bother I’ve had recently with my eyes (bugs, dust and wind are not kind to eye health) I finally took the plunge and booked an appointment with the optician.¬† Hopefully I’ll be able to get contact lenses to fit my bizarrely shaped eyes so I can wear wraparound sunglasses and stop a lot of these problems occurring.¬† I’m also going to need to speak to them about how my eye is still hurting after getting something in it last Saturday, the appointment is on Friday after work.

As much fun as it is cycling in torrential rain I decided against it today and went home after work and did another stint on the turbo trainer.¬† This time I didn’t do any sprints, just continual uphill for an hour

Miles cycled: 6.49 miles to work & back
Time on turbo trainer: 1 hour

Wednesday 12th June
Today I’m working late again and I arrive in the office to find my new frame has been delivered a lot earlier then we expected:

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And now I just have to get it home some how!

After work, despite the threat of rain from the ominous looking clouds, I think I might be able to squeeze in a few extra miles so I go for a little detour, I think I made it about 20 seconds down the road before the torrential rain started, so I hastily retreated and dragged my drenched self home.¬† Once I’d dried myself off I did a bit of indoor cycling and watched the rain pour down from the warm safety of the front room.

Miles cycled: 7.87 miles to work and back with a mini detour in the rain
Time on turbo trainer: 1.5 hours

Thursday 13th June
Thursday was almost a rest day, as I was working in a different part of Oxford which I decided might be quicker to drive to.  In hindsight it would have been easier to cycle as I sat in a lot of traffic jams watching cyclists sail past me.  Once home I hopped on the bike and watched a few more West Wing episodes whilst climbing up some big hills.

Time on turbo trainer: 2 hours

Friday 14th June
Friday was my first rest day of the week and I really needed it!¬† After work I went to the opticians where I had my eyes tested and poked for two hours.¬† Thankfully there was nothing still in my eye from the weekend, but I do have some very dry patches for which I was prescribed some fake tears to use for a week.¬† Naturally they didn’t have my contact lenses in stock as I have weird shaped eyes, but they’ve ordered me some to try next week.¬† I wont be allowed them unless the dryness has cleared up, which apparently can be caused by cycling and wearing glasses (because the wind gets forced around and in to your eyes).¬† Hopefully I wont have any problems getting them next week!

When I finally got home I went straight out in the car and drove back to work so I could go and pick the new bike frame, later that evening Ryan and I had a Skype chat so we could look at any differences between my old frame and new one to predict any problems we might have swapping them over.  All looked okay so next week the new frame gets fitted.

Total miles cycled: 6.58 miles to work and back
Total time spent having my eyes poked: 2 hours
Total people I annoyed saying: “ooh, look at my new bike frame, isn’t it sexy”: 2 (sorry Laura & Christine)

Saturday 15th June
I spent a lot of time this week planning possible long cycle routes for my only day off of the week, as the weather reports got worse and worse as the week went on.  The problem with covering so much distance is that you have to check the weather for several different counties.  Eventually I reluctantly decided there was just no way I was going to be able to cover 100 miles this weekend.  Instead I settled for heading out first thing on Saturday to get in as many miles as I could before the rain started, with an afternoon of indoor cycling.

I cycled 25 miles and headed back into Oxford before realising that the weather still looked okay so I should stay out a bit longer.¬† I cycled through town, taking a brief stop to get another damn bug out of my eye.¬† Heading back home I really started to wonder if this promised rain was going to arrive as the weather looked good, but I knew that if I’d headed out on a longer ride I ran the risk of being 50 miles from home and making very slow progress in the rain.¬† I was just cycling up to the driveway and wishing I’d done a more even number then the 36 I’d managed when a thought occurred to me….I didn’t take my house key out with me.¬† I gave the door a quick knock just in case but I knew no one was in.¬† I got back on the bike and cycled back into town where Christine was at work and got the very lovely building porter to watch my bike while I ran inside to frighten the library users with my lycra and beg for a house key.¬† Back home I’d managed to add another 6 miles to my total to make it a nice round 40 miles for the day.

I grabbed some lunch and had a quick chat with Ryan who was at home nursing a bad back, when the dark clouds descended and the rain started.¬† Happy to be indoors where I don’t need to do makeshift windscreen wipers on my glasses, I tried to spend as much of the afternoon on the turbo trainer as possible.¬† I honestly don’t know how Ryan manages to do so many hours indoors, I got bored after two hours but managed to push it to three before my brain started to melt and I had to give up.¬† Still, three indoors is worth double outdoors so I think I did okay.

Total miles cycled: 41.06
Time on turbotrainer: 3 hours
Episodes of The West Wing watched this week:¬† Can’t remember, but I had to change the disk three times!

Sunday 16th June
On Sunday I decided to give myself a total rest day. ¬†I had to work so instead of cycling I drove in, in fact, I didn’t go near my bike all day! ¬†It was a very odd experience, and one I’m not too keen to repeat. ¬†I attempted to do some more route mapping today and managed a bit more in my break at work, but I really need to finalise it next week, it’s a lot harder than it seems as I have to check all the roads to make sure they’re cyclable as well as trying not to make it so complicated we can’t remember the way, or too long that we wont make it in the four days we have to cycle through the UK. ¬†Today I also purchased some after-cycling recovery drink which I have had some samples of and it works really well to give you a much-needed boost at the end of the day. I also purchased some new cycling shoes, as my current ones are big and bulky and likely to make my feet too warm in the no doubt glorious weather we’re going to have for two weeks.

Thoughts on the week
Last night I noticed an old message I’d written about a cycling holiday we did to Scotland last summer. ¬†I’d written “cycled 34 miles today, totally exhausted”. ¬†I would now like to apologise to Ryan and Dave for being so incredibly slow and distance-averse on that holiday! ¬†It’s amazing to see¬†something¬†like that because it reminds me how far I’ve come, 34 miles? I could do that before lunch and still have the energy to come back again!

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.

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.