After 23 days, over 1,400 miles and 60,000ft plus of climbs yesterday I finally made it to Nice and the Med!
I took on this grueling bike-ride across some of Europe’s toughest terrain to mark my father’s (E F Schumacher) centenary and to raise awareness of the charity he founded – Practical Action.
You can follow my journey here:
Day 3 La Clusaz to Areches (58kms)
By the time we reached the summit of the Col des Aravis the road had started to dry out and the sky had cleared offering us superb views across to Mont Blanc. After a brief stop we descended to Giettaz before climbing the 1650m Col des Saisies. After a fast descent to Beaufort and a much needed stop at the local patisserie for a re-fuel we took on the final climb of the day, a 7km ascent to the scenic village of Areches. Here we enjoyed sampling the delicious local Beaufort cheese at the quaint auberge where we stopped for the night, before an evening meal on the balcony under the stars.
Day 4 Areches to Val d’Isere (73kms)
A tough day began with a 7.5 km climb immediately after breakfast to the summit of the Col du Pre (1703m) where we stopped for coffee at a cafe with stunning views across to a reservoir below and the high Alps. After a short descent to the barrage we were presented with yet another climb, the Cormet de Roseland (1967m) before a fantastic, winding 20km descent to Bourg St Maurice. The sun was beating down now and the relentless 32km climb to Val d’Isere after lunch was a real test of endurance.
Day 5 Val d’Isere to Valloire (107kms)
We were becoming accustomed to climbs straight after breakfast and today was no different, this time the Col de l’Iseran at 2762m. The 17km, 900m climb was a long slog but we were again rewarded with sun, blue skies and stunning views at the rugged, windswept summit.
A fast 20km descent to Bessans was followed by a short climb up to Aussois for lunch. Just in case you were wondering who were the mad couple who decided to do this ride for their honeymoon, here they are – Travis and Tina from San Francisco..!
We were now keenly anticipating the first really famous Tour de France climbs of the trip, the Col du Telegraphe followed by the Galibier and we didn’t have to wait long. After a short ride down the valley we were confronted with this sign:
Thanks for the reminder.
Just over an hour later and I had reached the summit and a well-earned beer. In hindsight this probably wasn’t what my body wanted at that point and unsurprisingly, after a short descent to our hotel in Valloire I felt completely wiped out for the rest of the evening…
Day 6 The Col du Galibier & Col d’Izoard (106kms)
There was a palpable sense excitement in the air at breakfast in anticipation of the day ahead with the famed Galibier the first obstacle in our way. If the prospect of the giant 17km climb up this imposing 2646m Col wasn’t enough to make me feel small on cycling out of the village we came across this assembly of Giants which certainly did:
The Galibier itself was a marathon as expected with a particularly tough last few kilometers. The views on the way up and particularly up top were almost enough to make all the effort seem worthwhile though:
The 38km descent was exhilarating and I never realised 65kmh could feel so fast!
I had climbed the fearsome Galibier and it could only get easier from here on it. It took just a few hours before I realised I was most mistaken! In my thrall at the names Col du Telegraphe and Galibier I had failed to realise that just because a Col didn’t appear as frequently in cycling’s Blue Riband event it did not detract from it’s difficulty. And so it proved with the 23km afternoon climb up the Col d’Izoard (2,360m) which proved at least as challenging in the energy-sapping, dry afternoon heat. The roads were quieter now and the climb up above Briancon and through the pine forests was stunning:
The views from the top were equally breathtaking:
After gaining all that height it was rather demoralising to lose it almost immediately with a 30km descent to the lively town of Guillestre 1,300m below…
Day 7 Guillestre to Auron (97kms)
It was after consulting the itinerary on arrival at the hotel that it finally dawned on me that such had been the attention I had given the previous day’s itinerary I had failed to recognise that the next day’s ride was even tougher. Whereas the previous day we had climbed 2,774m in total, today we were due to climb just under 3,000m, including going over the highest paved road in the Alps! The first challenge was the Col de Vars and again we were greeted with clear blue skies and sunshine
20 kms later and we had re-gained most of the ground we had lost the previous afternoon and were back up to 2,108m. Needless to say we then descended nearly 1,000m down to Jausiers – a far from ideal preparation for the monster 23km and 1,600m climb back up to the 2,802m Col de la Bonette.
After stopping for lunch at a picturesque spot we braced ourselves for the challenge ahead. It was an imposing climb with endless switchbacks and unrelenting heat, but two hours or so later I had made it to the top. It was the most satisfying climb of my life as I sprinted up the final 2 kms even recording 30kmh as the road plateaued below before the final sharp bend to the top. The exhileration was overwhelming and it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life as I clambered up the scree slope to the summit to survey the view:
After an incredible 26km descent we were back down at 1,144m in St Etienne de Tinee. A really hard day finished with an unexpected and vicious 6.5km, 500m clamber up to Auron but with adrenalin still coarsing through my veins, nothing was stopping me now.
Day 8 Auron to Nice (128kms)
If I thought the final day would be an easy, if long, descent to the mediterranean I was again proved wrong. We set off earlier than usual at 8am and the first 50kms certainly flew by averaging well over 30kmh as we made rapid headway down the valley.
It was shortly after stopping for a mid-morning coffee stop that I had a reality check. Instead of following the main route down the valley into Nice the itinerary took us into the hills and into a beautiful, remote valley.
It’s allure was tempered however by the fact that we were staring at a near 15% climb for several kilometers under the now familiar unrelenting sun. It was a real struggle at times just to keep the pedals rotating such was the gradient but eventually we entered a tunnel that signalled the top and a welcome stop for lunch in Utelle.
The afternoon’s ride to Nice was, despite a few more undulations, relatively straightforward as we eagerly anticipated our first views of the sea as we rounded each bend. Perhaps it was the incoming cloud that shrouded our view but we had to wait until we hit the very centre of Nice before it finally came into view 100m ahead!
Finally, after more than 3 weeks and 1,400 miles I had made it!!
Let the celebrations begin…!
Thank you very much to everyone for your support and interest and if you were waiting to see whether I would complete the challenge before sponsoring me please don’t hold off any longer! We’re currently around £100 short of our £5,000 fundraising target so any help you can give to get us there would be hugely appreciated!
Just visit www.justgiving.com/pedalling4pop to show your support.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Two days into the Alpine section of the climb and I’m happy to report I’m hanging in there – I’ve scaled the first 1000m to the ski resort town of La Clusaz!
I’ve joined a group of fellow cyclists for this last leg of the journey and crucially it is fully supported meaning we can concentrate on the cycling without having to worry about panniers. As soon as I set off with from Geneva airport I knew that was the best decision I had made. Carrying around 14 kilos on my makeshift panniers over huge Alpine passes would have been ridiculously difficult and potentially dangerous on the many fast descents we will be encountering. The difference is huge and on setting off from Geneva I actually thought there was something wrong with the bike!
Our group is a good mix of people and include a couple from San Fransisco on honeymoon!! They clearly love cycling and I think it’s great to see, so different from the norm. Somehow I’m not sure my wife would have fancied the idea though…!
So far we’ve ascended around 2000m and yesterday’s ride from Thonon-les-Bains finished with a steady 30km climb to La Clusaz where we stay overnight. Straight after breakfast this morning we will encounter the Col des Aravis (1486m) before the Col des Saises later in the day. Last night there was a big thunderstorm, with rain bucketting down but it looks to have cleared this morning which is a relief.
Now it’s time to get my climbing shoes on…No Comments » | Add your comment
Well, I’ve made it to Geneva and am now well over half way now which is great. Just the small matter of the Alps to come…!! So what’s been happening over the last week or so?
After saying farewell to Nicola in Mainz I carried on down the Rhine, through Worms to Mannheim. Conscious of a couple of very long stages ahead I had hoped to continue on to Speyer but it turned out the hostel there was full.
Friday’s leg to Baden-Baden started early. Awoken at 6am by an early riser in the dormitory it was my earliest start of the trip and a beautiful morning.
After cycling through a lovely wood south of Manheim I veered away from the Rhine to Hockenheim, home of the German Grand Prix. Seeing as the cycle path went right past the circuit I thought it would be rude not to pay a visit to Michael’s spiritual home.
After a brief stop to see some racing that happened to be going on I continued on south and back to the Rhine.
Soon after midday I came across a fellow cyclist, baseball cap turned backwards with huge quantities of gear. I exchanged greetings as I passed and we got talking.
He was a really friendly guy by the name of Gerd Muller (!!), who’d just retired at 60 and in celebration was on the homeward leg of a 1800km tour of Germany…! We shared lunch and cycled most of the afternoon before exchanging email addresses and going our seperate ways south of Karlsruhe. By the time I reached the youth hostel (inevitably it was at the very top of one of larger hills in Baden-Baden!) I had been in the saddle over 13 hours it was gone 9pm and I had cycled the best part of 150kms.
If I thought the following day could only be easier it was soon clear that I was very wrong. I set off early on a glorious sunny morning and within a few miles was reminded that that the Schwartzwald is a rather hilly part of the world.
After climbing over the first pass of the day at close to 1,000m I knew I was in for a really long and arduous day. By early afternoon as temperatures climbed into the 30′s things got exremely hard going. After stopping 5 times on a seemingly endless 4km climb with a 12% gradient I started having grave doubts as to how on earth I would get to Freiburg-im-Breisgau.
After several more smaller climbs I eventually laboured into Freiburg at gone 9pm after another 12 hour day in the saddle. A glance at a temperature guage in town read 26%C – having covered over 90 miles for the second consecutive day it was the toughest day’s cycling I’d ever experienced.
The 51 mile leg from Freiburg to Basle looked fairly straight forward on paper but was spoiled by the worst weather of the trip so far. From around lunchtime it had started raining steadily and by the time I had crossed the border into Switzerland it was tipping it down.
After taking shelter at Basle central station for some respite and to get my bearings it soon became clear that the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. By the time I had reached the youth hostel me and most of my gear were completely soaked, but I had made it to Switzerland in one piece…
Monday’s Basle to Solothurn leg was another pleasant day’s ride spoiled by more unanticipated moutains – next time I’ll spend a bit longer planning the itinerary! A climb over the 900m Passwang across the Jura Alps was the “highlight” of another hard day in the saddle.
My cousin Martina joined me for Tuesday’s ride to Fribourg and it was nice to just concentrate on pedalling without worrying about navigation.
After another beautiful sunny day mainly following cycle paths we had made it Fribourg after pedalling around 54 miles.
Wednesday’s ride to Lausanne was yet another that I had assumed would be relatively flat – there’s a theme emerging here…! After cursing Fribourg’s undulations at least the ride down to Lac Leman and Vevey was long, fast and great fun. Unfortunately the part astride the lake to Lausanne was not the pleasant amble I was expecting with a persistent head wind hampering my progress.
My cousin Kurt and his wife Claire joined me on a gorgeous sunny day for the final leg of part one of the journey to Geneva.
It was again good to have company and despite a few short, sharp climbs up into the vineyards above the lake there was nothing too strenuous.
My recently fitted speedometer/mileometer/cadence reckoner has confirmed what I already suspected – I seriously underestimated the daily mileages to the tune of around 25%, so instead of cycling around 760 miles from Bremen to Geneva it was much more like 960. At least the estimated remaining 440 miles is probably much nearer the mark, it being on the official itinerary.
My only niggling worry was a look at the the total anticipated ascent over the next 8 days – just 15,460 meters or 50,700 ft. Wish me luck….!!No Comments » | Add your comment
Day 6 Koblenz to Mainz
The first entire day of sunshine today. We wound our way through the Rhine valley, this part being a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was stunning; a steep winding valley with vines clinging to the hillsides or deep green woodland. We passed (or were passed) by zillions of cyclists of all ages. We even saw a woman pedalling determinedly who was 85 if she was a day!
I couldn’t believe it when we got to Mainz. I had made it! We had travelled about 360 miles over the last 6 days powered only by our own legs and I was still standing! Amazing.
To celebrate this milestone, we went out for something to eat and decided on wine rather than beer for the evening given that we were in such a great wine-producing area. We stumbled upon “Weinhaus Michel”, which looked like a traditional German restaurant but turned out to be more of a wine bar. All the wine they sell is produced in the vineyard of the Michel family, not far from the Rhine. We ordered a delicious bottle of wine and some food and ate outside ín a great atmosphere.
On our way out, we bumped into the owner Stefan Michel. He was very friendly and insisted on us trying a wine that his son had created. He asked what we were doing in Mainz. When we told him about the ride and Practical Action he stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a 50 Euro note. “Here, have this as my contribution to your great ride!” he said.
What generosity and a great note on which to end the day and my part of the ride. (More about Stefan’s wines here: http://www.michel-wein.de/index.html)
DAY 3 Munster to Duisburg
A 60+ mile day passing through countryside and then heavy industry. Our arrival in Duisburg was a nightmare. A massive industrial city, tired legs and no detailed map. We ended up in a bustling street fair with, fortunately, some firemen on duty. They were wonderfully helpful, printing us detailed maps and route instructions from google earth that got us, finally, to the hostel’s door. It was sited on an old industrial works (including museum) with the carcasses of gas storage tanks, huge chimneys and steel works all around it. James was just contemplating climbing one of the chimneys to see the view when a security man rose up mysteriously out of the darkness in a golf buggy. Very weird.
DAY 4 Duisburg to Bonn, 78 miles
With the cycle computer finally installed to confirm our accurate mileage and speed, our breathtaking average speed for the day turned out to be 8.5 miles per hour!! It had taken us hours to negotiate the complicated streets out of Duisburg so finally, come 8.15pm, we arrived in central Bonn only to find that our hostel was 5.5 kms out in the sticks up a small mountain. Smelly and tired we thought that the Intercontinental Hotel was just the ticket … for a map and some directions. However we did not legislate for the fact that it was now dark. After fumbling through the streets following buses, we pedalled up a dark wooded road. James cycling on instinct pedalled ahead only to be called to a halt by me – Why was he not using our brand new map?!?
A couple of miles later, having consulted the map, James asked a passer-by for directions. She was a very helpful (as all the Germans we have met have been) but bossy and gave us detailed lengthy, off-road instructions to the hostel. She made it sound miles away!! We rode on and considered her track but I decided the road (and map!) were safer. She was having none of it and scolded us back onto the track, shouting loudly from behind us “RECHTS! RECHTS!”. Obediently we did as we were told and began cycling up a pitch black woodland track. Miraculously we finally arrived to a YHA sign at 9pm, having thought we had been sent to the Black Forest. I was hysterical with fatigue and couldn’t stop laughing, rather alarming the poor receptionist.
Day 5 Bonn to Koblenz
An early start – 6am and a rude awakening to a commotion outsite our window that convinced us that our bikes were in mortal danger of being stolen! They had been locked together but were in an unlocked basement. I leapt out of bed, wondering how we would track down the thieves, and ran down in my nightshirt to check out the damage. Fortunately no one else was up to see this mad woman! The bikes were fine.
3pm: After visits to the tourist information, the town archive and the street were Papa was born (sadly the house is no longer there) we were off! Only 40 miles today, what a sinch! We followed the Rhine all the way, through lovely winding, wooded valleys, spotting our first vineyards. Arrived Koblenz 7pm. Phew.No Comments » | Add your comment
(Day 2 of the ride and we have found an internet terminal to get onto the blog.)
Amazingly, our bikes both survived the plane journey and arrived, with our panniers at the correct airport (Hannover)!
So after half an hour of careful reconstruction we set off by train to our starting point of Bremen – our ancestral town.
The following morning we decided to spend a little time investigating our family history before setting off. We had been told by family mythology that our ancestors had been important people in Bremen through the centuries. A visit to the archive found nothing so we were directed to the Foke Museum. The historians there looked blank when we suggested the famous Schumacher name but directed us to a book of a previous exhibition they had held on notable figures in Bremen’s history. At last! We found our great, great, great, great … grandfather, Albert! He looked a stuffy 18th century bloke with an impressive wig. And lo! He was the all-important Post Master!!!! What a find! The museum staff proceeded to lay out a red carpet for our exit.
So, after a hot chocolate stop to compose ourselves and get over the shock of our blue-blooded ancestry (and a few miles cycling around Bremen!) we set off at 11.30 for our first stage of 70 miles!
We cycled through hot sun, thunder storms and beating rain, stopping regularly for map conferences, punctures and sustenance. By dusk we were … almost there! By nightfall we got our first glimpse of the youth hostel lights at Alfsee and rolled off our bikes into bed.
Less eventful but once again thunder storms and an intermittent headwind. Our prediction was to arrive in Munster by 4pm. Ha! Arrived 6.30 but at least that was before dark.
Feeling REALLY tired this morning and have a mere 65 miles to do today to reach Duisburg. Better get going as our light batteries are fading!!!!No Comments » | Add your comment
16th August 2011 marks 100 years since Papa was born so I have been pondering about him on my ride.
One of my earliest and most formative memories of Papa – I must have been 6 or 7 at the time – was digging potatoes with him in the garden. It sounds so simple and indeed it was but it was revolutionary for my young child’s mind: you stuck a fork into the ground beneath a bushy green plant, loosened the earth, and as if by magic food appeared. I remember scrambling around in the muck excitedly looking for more of these precious golden roots. I suspect it was the first time that I realised where food came from – miraculously it grew, out of the ground around us. It seemed absolutely amazing!
I suspect this was a particularly important experience for me because it appealed to my foraging instinct, an instinct I have had to fight vigorously on my bike rides around the abundant Shropshire lanes. Hedgerows are full of blackberries, sloes, wonderful wild flowers (that I would like in my garden!) and wild raspberries but if I keep stopping to pick, I get nowhere fast!
Along a particular lane that I frequent, I pedal past about 200 metres of cherry plum bushes. This year they have been swathed in wonderful fruit – yellow, red and purple. Most of it, sadly, simply drops to be squished by passing traffic. It breaks my heart to see this abundance go to waste so in this particular case I’ve allowed myself to stop and gather the plump fruit. Sometimes it has just been to stuff them in my mouth with the excuse that I needed the sugar to replenish my muscles but I have also stopped to gather them for use at home. I found that the darker fruit were the tastier to eat fresh but the yellow fruit have ripened later and are still around now.
At home I have substituted them for plums in a plum and sour cream tart recipe – delicious! – but I have also been keen to try making jam. I’m no expert jam-maker and didn’t have any recipe books for plum jam let alone the wild variety. How much sugar should I use? Do they need extra pectin? Where do I look for information? Well, obviously, the internet. What a fantastic modern resource and sure enough there are lots of good wild plum jam recipes and tips on-line. And how much poorer I would be if I was unable to access this amazing source, if I did not have access to the modern sources of energy that power this cyber world.
“A life without energy condemns people to a life of poverty. One quarter of the world’s population is forced to live without energy – and lives are devastated as ill health and poor education take their toll.” (Practical Action, 2011)
Hence Practical Action’s important campaign to provide energy for all through the use of more efficient technologies and small-scale electricity generation projects such as micro-hydro projects in Peru and simple solar technologies in parts of Africa. Access to energy is a crucial part of access to education and information, the importance of which Papa recognised all those years ago: “Development does not start with goods, it starts with people and their education, organisation and discipline.”
The jam, by the way, is a brilliant red or apricot orange depending on the plum colour and tastes wonderful. And in the process I have discovered a super website www.eatweeds.co.uk !No Comments » | Add your comment
… and our ride will be beginning in Bremen – help, that’s soon, too soon!
Having said that, training is going reasonably well although the proof of the pudding… as they say, will be in two and a half weeks! Day 4 is when I expect to feel pretty done in.
All those hours on a bike pedalling around Shropshire give me lots of time to ponder things. I prefer to go on new routes each time so that it doesn’t get too boring and so there are new sights to distract me. It brings out my nosey instinct and I find myself craning my neck to see over hedges, through windows and up driveways.
Today I did a 24 mile jaunt passing ripe fields, cropped fields, fields full of young leeks, cows with their young – the lot. What struck me most though was passing fields of leeks that were being sprayed with water cannon. This is not the first time I’ve seen these machines in operation. They chuck out tonnes of water at breathtaking speed. Strangely, although all of us gardeners are advised to water in the evening to minimise evaporation, that message obviously hasn’t got through to the local farmers who seem to prefer to do their watering in the blazing sun at midday! The wind blows the spray all over the place too and it leaves me wondering how much of the water actually gets to the plants in the end.
This wasteful system contrasts so strikingly with the efficient drip-water irrigation systems that Practical Action has been using in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia (http://practicalaction.org/drip-irrigation). In these simple systems, water drips gradually right where it is needed, at the foot of the plant, making the most of every precious drop. Our attitude to water in the UK must surely change dramatically over the next few years. We can’t afford to be so profligate and inefficient in our use of this precious resource. I wonder too what impact this system of watering is having on the beautiful River Severn and its wildlife which I see regularly on my rides.
Hey ho! Enough cogitating. A day of rest tomorrow before some more gruelling rides starting Sunday.No Comments » | Add your comment
Phew! Summer holidays and to my amazement I’ve actually survived my first year as a Newly Qualified Teacher (otherwise known as a Newly Qualified Target). The only downside is that I now have no work/time excuses left and have to start training seriously for this ride. As Papa used to say, ‘An ounce of practise is worth a tonne of theory’ and it must be said that pretty much all my training so far has been in my head.
OMG! Have just realised the date – 25th July – and exactly one month till we leave for Germany. Only a month to get my body and head into shape. What was I thinking when I agreed to this?!
Looking back I haven’t really twigged about the distance we are going or the 6 days we are meant to be spending doing it. It’s only as some of my kind sponsors have been dropping their jaws and wishing me, in a disconcertingly sincere way “Good Luck!”, that the penny thumped to the floor of my skull. This isn’t just a little further than last year’s 99 miles. This is a whacking three and a bit times as far and that’s if we don’t get lost! Furthermore, although I feel I could, given ample time, trundle 330 miles on a bike, who was the mad hatter (JAMES!) who suggested doing it in 6 days straight???
So, panic is truly setting in and I have begun to compile lists and plans.
First things first: my rapidly growing list of worries:
1. My bike, flying standby, simply doesn’t make it it to Germany at all so I have to walk the distance instead. This means I miss the start of term, lose my job, lose my husband who’s given up waiting for me to return etc. and my life spins into out of control and into orbit…
2. My bike and I make it to Germany but on the 3rd morning I simply can’t move my legs or sit down. I know I can do two days on a bike – that’s what we did last year – but SIX?!?
3. James – who has a ‘proper’ racing/road super-light, 21-gear bike – get’s fed up with waiting for me and my borrowed, folding, 7-gear, iron machine and simply pedals on without me leaving me somewhere in the middle of Germany.
4. I won’t be able to pedal in anything but 1st gear when I get my loaded saddle-bags on the bike – I think the only solution to this is that I’ll just have to travel with just a spare pair of gel-pants and a toothbrush.
The good news is that on the first day of the holidays – Saturday – I went for a potter around Shropshire’s country lanes. It took rather longer than expected – 2 hours – and when I mapometered it on-line I found I’d done 25 and a quarter miles! )
The bad news is that when I got back on my bike today – a full 48 recovery hours later – my legs felt like putty and would hardly move. I persevered and completed my Condover – Uffingham loop which was quite beautiful but worry number 2 is really preying on my mind now. How on earth am I going to keep this (and more) up day after day?1 Comment » | Add your comment