Category Archives: Travel

The Tourmalet, take one

view-from-the-tourmalet

All things going well, I should find myself at the top of the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees twice in 2009. I’ve already ticked off one visit: a couple of weeks ago while skiing with the family. This picture shows the view looking west from the Tourmalet, which is 2,115 metres above sea level. I arrived by chair and button lift.

The second visit will be a tad more difficult, as I’ll be arriving under my own steam by bike. That’s if all the snow has melted by early May, which is absolutely not guaranteed. And that I can actually make it up the damn thing. Plans are well underway for this year’s charity bike ride by Les Veloistes Gentils, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times before. We’re travelling from the Mediterranean coast near Perpignan to the Atlantic coast at Biarritz, starting on May 3rd.

One thing common to both visits will be that the journey down from the top will be significantly more fun than the journey up there!

We’re raising money for two charities this year: Action for Children (the new name for NCH which we supported last year) and CHASE. Both are extremely worthy causes. I’ve set up a Just Giving page here – any donation, however modest, will be very gratefully received.

Wish us luck!

Next year’s ride

It’s almost six months since our intrepid little gang of very amateur cyclists set off from Hampton Court on our jaunt down through France to St. Emilion, but I’ve bored you about that before.

Ever since we finished the ride there’s be an appetite to do it all again next year, and after mulling over the potential route for a while, I think I’ve finally settled on it…and it’s something of a cycling classic. While starting in England was nice to do this year, to a man the lads weren’t that bothered about including a UK stage in next year’s ride. The lighter and more respectful traffic along with the better surface of French roads and, frankly, the adventure of being in foreign climes on our bikes has resulted in an agreement to both start and finish in France.

But we still needed a proper ‘journey’, so the one we’re going to try is cycling from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. If you click on the little map above you’ll get a clearer view of the proposed route…and those of you who know your geography (or, indeed, your cycling!) will also know that it’s rather hillier than this year’s ride. In fact, it takes in two of the Tour de France’s most historic climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d’Aubisque.

There’s a lot of excitement amongst the group, plus not a small amount of anxiety. These aren’t small hills! I get particularly nervous when I look at the route profile and the numbers on the left-hand side of it. In this year’s ride, we didn’t get more than 200m above sea level…and 200m doesn’t even appear on the scale of next year’s profile! And given I live in one of France’s flattest regions, training might be an issue…

Still, life’s nothing without challenges. We’re starting the ride on May 3rd 2009, which is four months before my 40th birthday, so this might be a last hurrah before a steady slip into sedentry middle age…

700km, two punctures, one crash, a lot of Haribo

Supping a cold beer on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in St Emilion…it’s remarkable how the pain and effort of a near 700km bike ride over five days melts away. 

It comes right back the next morning though, I can tell you.

Regular viewers will know that for the past few months I’ve been organising a charity bike ride between London and St. Emilion.  Well, last Friday was the day of reckoning as the ten riders gathered at Hampton Court Palace along with our trusty support vehicle driver Nuts (not his real name…).

To cut a long story short, we all made it to the finish.  We had one crash – spectacular but no serious injury – two punctures, a little bit of rain, plenty of sunshine, a lot of laughs and some extremely sore limbs.  We’re all very aware of where our perineums are and have boosted sales of Sudacream and Haribo to new highs (Haribo soon to be repositioned as the elite athelete’s energy boost of choice).  British drivers are as dangerously impatient with cyclists as French ones are respectful.  A fresh baguette filled with butter, cheese, ham and Dijon mustard is the world’s best lunch, without question.  Vittel is the water of champions (but Chateau d’Yquem ’95 is otherworldly). There are some extraordinarily good and generous people around.  There’s a deeply meditative quality to the sound of ten well-prepared road bikes whirring along an otherwise silent French country road in the sunshine.

I can’t wait until I get the chance to do it again.  And best of all, in addition to having an amazing trip, we raised somewhere in the region of £10,000 for charity. 

Can’t be bad.

It’s been a while

I know, I know.  I’ve been lax.  Reasons have been (1) quite a bit of work on, (2) family holiday to Spain and (3) the impending charity bike ride.

Yes, this time next week I’ll be a few kilometres into the 650 or so that lie between Hampton Court Palace and St-Emilion, wrapped in Lycra resembling that in the picture to the right and accompanied by nine other like-minded middle aged fellas.  Tension will no doubt be high…Lycra’s not designed to stretch quite that much after all…but I’ll actually just be relieved to get on the road.

I’m a relatively organised fella, but organising the ride has been quite a logistical challenge.  It sounded easy enough – ten blokes on bikes, a van in support, a ferry crossing and a few hotels en route – but the details…oh the details.  I won’t bore you.

I was in London last weekend and managed to get some training in.  I picked up a new bike from Condor on Gray’s Inn Road, met friend and fellow-rider Mark at his office near St Paul’s and then followed him home to Wimbledon.

Excuse my blasphemy, but Christ on a bike!  And even he’d have filled his nut-hugging shorts.  I haven’t cycled through London traffic in years and doing so during Friday rush hour on a brand new bike was one of the hairiest things I’ve attempted for a while.  Still, we arrive safely and met up with a few of the other lads for a training ride around Surrey last Saturday.  Great fun, and everyone seems to be getting quite excited about the ride.

I’ll be looking forward to landing on French shores next Saturday morning and finding some quiet country roads where motorists respect your passion for cycling rather than resent it.

As I’ve mentioned before (and the eagle-eyed out there will see the logo on the jersey above) we’re doing the ride in aid of NCH, one of the worthiest charities I know.  You’ve still got time to sponsor me – you can do so here.  I’m not far off my target…

I’m hoping to find the time (and the internet connection) to blog a couple of times on the way, and I’ll also try to send the odd tweet.  You can follow me on Twitter here.

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Bike ride route…finalised

6a00d8341c78e853ef00e54f119c348833-640wi.jpgMy regular reader(s) will know about the charity bike ride I’ve been organising.  Others can read about it here

At various times over the past few months I’ve been poring over maps (old fashioned offline ones, too) trying to finalise the best route for our little peloton to take on its way from London (well, Hampton Court) to St. Emilion.  Some aspects of the trip are set in stone.  For example, we’re on a ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo and will also be stopping at my house for one night.  Beyond that, it’s pretty flexible.  Not too flexible, though, as my general route planning methodology has been based upon the flightpath of the crow.

As luck would have it (or not) the third stage of this year’s Tour de France starts in St. Malo and heads to Nantes.  We’re not planning on going quite as far as Nantes in the one day, but can at least cover the first 85km of the stage as we make our merry way south. 

Anyway, if you’re interested, here are the routes mapped out on the wonderful Sanoodi:

Day 1: Hampton Court to Portsmouth

Day 2: St. Malo to Redon

Day 3: Redon to La Roche-sur-Yon

Day 4: La Roche-sur-Yon to Les Chapelles

Day 5: Les Chapelles to St.Emilion

Wish us luck.  We should arrive in St. Emilion on May 6th.  There’s still plenty of time to sponsor me, and you can do so here.

Sore arses and other ailments

tweedcc_web.jpgLast year my old mate Mark and I decided that we needed to undertake a grand physical challenge while we were both still in our 30s.  We decided that – as we did when we were at school together – it’d be a good idea to cycle from Mark’s house to mine.  We grew up in Hertfordshire, and the distance from Codicote to St. Ippolyts was about 10km.  In fact I imagine it still is.

The distance from Wimbledon – where Mark now lives – to my house in France is about 750km, depending on the Channel crossing you take.  It’s unlikely that I’ll be back by teatime.

Still, a challenge is a challenge and we’re doing it.  Not only that, but we’re going past my house and all the way down to St. Emilion, which seemed like a suitable place to collapse.  We’re starting on May 2nd and should arrive on May 6th.  We’ve even managed to convince some similarly middle-aged friends to come along too.  In all, there’ll be 10 of us hauling our generous backsides onto the unforgiving saddles of road-racing machinery of varying quality and vintage.  Should be quite some sight.

It’s all for charity of course.  Our headline beneficiary is NCH, and a very worthy one it is too.  Ken Deeks gave a moving speech about NCH’s work at The Flackenhack Awards last year and I can’t think of a better cause for which to be riding.

You can sponsor me here personally (all contributions very gratefully received) and if you represent a company and feel that having your logo stretched across ten slow-moving arses would be good for business, then I’d love to hear from you.  There’ll be room for the biggest of logos, I assure you.

Oh, I’m also after the loan of a van for a week.  Long-wheelbase Transit size.  Ta.

As a frequent flyer…

art_plane_gi.jpg…I take a certain amount of comfort from the fact that a jet can drop short of the runway, lose its wheels and end up looking like this, and not only can everyone walk away virtually unharmed, but (as the Economist reports) have one passenger say that they thought the landing was “a little heavy” and another say that the “first sign of problems was when the wing began to detach shortly before the aircraft came to a standstill…”

Mind you, after half a day flying from Beijing, they might’ve been drunk.

Less comforting are the reports that the plane might have run out of fuel on its approach, something that, if confirmed, will add fuel (sorry) to the debate about overcrowded skies and congestion in the air.  No doubt there’ll be details of how long the jet had been circling above London and, had it been asked to do another circuit, where it might have come down.  Gulp.

Feeling supersonic

0108wb3.jpgI’m back in the UK this week.  New year, new job and all that.  As per usual, I flew out of La Rochelle on Ryanair’s flight to Stansted (sadly, without having indulged in the planet’s best cheese sandwich).

Lots of people moan about Ryanair – I hear them all the time – but I have to say that, in four years flying between France and the UK and probably 100-odd flights, I’ve only ever not managed to make it to the UK on the day I intended to once (which was weather related) and only ever been seriously delayed a couple of times.  It’s proper basic, sure. But it’s proper cheap, relatively speaking.

On today’s flight I finished off Duncan Hamilton’s brilliant, brilliant book about his time spent in the company of Brian Clough, the greatest football manager ever to walk on God’s earth (oceans and all).  I also had the current Economist with me and one little story stood out, if only due to the stark contrast it presented to the environment in which I was reading it.

As you might expect, the demand for private jets is greater than it’s ever been.  The pain of navigating tightened security at large airports and flight congestion has made the argument for a private jet even more compelling, especially for business.  No point having half a dozen execs standing in line with the great unwashed when they could already be poring over spreadsheets (or more likely pouring cognac) at 30,000 feet.  But, as the Economist points out, though they might be in the air a bit quicker in their soft leather armchairs, the same bigwigs are only going to be travelling at the same speed as the plebs in the Jumbo.

But maybe not for long.  A company in the States has plans to produce a supersonic private jet!  How cool is that?  12 passengers, 1,000 mph.  It’ll also be able to fly subsonic (so up to about 750mph – faster than almost any other passenger planes) more efficiently than existing private jets.  And it’s only going to cost you $80m.  Something to save up for.

I can see plenty of corporations picking one up.  London to New York in three hours?  Leave at 9.00am and arrive before breakfast…get away at 4.00pm and be back around midnight.  Wonderful.

It really is.  Allow me to crow for a minute, and reminisce about one of the best experiences of my life (so far).  I was lucky enough (and I do totally feel completely, like, honoured) to have flown supersonic on Concorde.  Better than that, we didn’t go to dull old NYC.  Oh no, we went to Barbados!  It’s a slightly surreal experience, I have to tell you, to climb on a plane on a drizzly January morning at Heathrow and a mere four hours later be hopping down the steps at a sunny Grantley Adams airport.

I’m chuffed to bits that supersonic flight is back on the agenda.  I wonder if it’s too late to train as a pilot?

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