Archive for September, 2011

Disasters, climate change and development: what do we need to do differently?

Friday, September 30th, 2011 by

What is the missing link in disasters? According to Terry Cannon, in a session I attended today it is the attention to social and cultural issues that mediate preparedness and perceptions of risk. Terry highlighted the need to think more broadly about the challenges of addressing disaster risk, discussing the need to bridge institutional and local knowledge systems, and bring in knowledge from other disciplines – a theme taken up by his co-presenter, Katie Harris.

Where Terry focussed in on the mismatch between NGO/policy priorities and those of local people (for whom, empirical evidence demonstrates, disasters are seldom the most pressing concern), Katie explored the role of emotions in disaster preparedness. Bringing insight from psychological research, Katie discussed how an appreciation of emotions can help explain why preparedness campaigns repeatedly fail, revealing refusal to prepare as a rational act when understood from the perspective of those at risk – for whom ontological security demands a rejection of risk narratives that would challenge the perception of the home as a safe place, of nature as a benign force, and in the ability of society to provide protection.
The insider/outsider tension that Terry and Katie highlight was taken up in the title of the next presentation, by Terry Gibson from the Global Network for Disaster Reduction. ‘It’s all one’ captures the views of local people, for whom disasters and development don’t exist in separate silos. As discussant, I suggested that this is a stark challenge to NGOs – what are we doing? Whose priorities are we following? Why is there a mismatch between ‘our’ priorities and ‘theirs’? One response was to be found in Terry Gibson’s focus on social learning and negotiation processes to enable the co-definition, between development actors and local people, of the priorities for development action.
Terry Gibson’s presentation highlighted how the View’s from the Frontline Project, in which NGOs and CSOs undertake a comprehensive assessment of progress in disaster preparedness as a counterweight to government reporting on progress on the Hyogo Framework for Action. This work initially had huge success in opening up political space at the international level for attention to action at the local level. However, no sooner had this space been opened, GNDR realised that it’s language had been co-opted as a fig-leaf over a process that was as heavily top-down as ever. Part of the answer being explored is to adopt an approach that explicitly attends to power through a focus on politics, negotiation and contestation, working from the social learning literature that highlights the need for ‘double loop learning’ – changing not only actions (single loop) but also the assumptions on which these actions are based. Strong resonances, here, with the need to change mindset in disaster preparedness and start to understand why people behave as they do, rather than just assuming that our expert knowledge of mitigation measures is enough.
Thomas Tanner took the discussion on to consider tools for integrating climate change adaptation and disaster reduction into development. Sifting the preponderance of tools into three categories for analysis – process guidance, data and information provision, and knowledge sharing – Thom focused in on the first category and suggested that a significant benefit of these was to build awareness of climate issues at an individual level within the organisations that have developed tools. While highlighting the need for centralised, nationally owned climate information and disaster profile information, he also critiqued tools for bringing ‘the end of politics’ through a focus on techo-managerial fixes, and echoed Wilby’s suggestion that robust decision making would be more valuable than an endless search for climate information that only becomes more uncertain the more one tries to put it into action.
Thom’s call for a common approach to M&E was taken up by Paula Silva Villanueva, who presented an innovative approach that moves on from a preoccupation with indicators to an iterative, learning process that is specifically designed to support organisations in reflecting on their policies and programmes and to incorporate resilience as a framing for their work. The ‘ADAPT’ framework does this by encouraging: Adaptive learning and management that enable flexible planning; Dynamic monitoring that acknowledges changing hazard profiles and uncertainty; being Active in understanding social, cultural and personal issues, including the diverse interests of the actors that touch and are touched by interventions; are Participatory to promote self-reliance and problem solving; and Thorough, in looking across scales and at the underlying causes of vulnerability.
Edwin Elegado, from Plan International in the Philippines, explored much of this in practice in the context of a climate hotspot that is ranked third in the World Risk Index. By applying the Climate Smart Disaster Risk Management (CSDRM) approach, on which Paula’s work is based, Edwin compared the work of actors at three scales – the national Climate Change Commission, an alliance of seven cities in a common watershed, and an island town – finding that each had made substantial progress in the three CSDRM pillars: dealing with risks and uncertainty, building adaptive capacity, and addressing the underlying causes of poverty. Reflecting a common and important theme throughout the meeting, Edwin and Paula both highlighted that integration ultimately means dealing with the complex realities of local change, demanding political will, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and the participation of the people at risk.

Sex sells

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 by

I came across a development project today that blew me away! Shujaaz FM is a fictional radio station in Kenya. It is known to millions of young Kenyans and is playing a fantastic role in education, peace building and poverty reduction. It takes the form of a comic book of which half a million are distributed every month for free. The young people in Kenya lap it up – and each copy is read 10 times.
Everything about it makes it the perfect communications project:-
• It has a very clear audience, 16 to 24 years olds
• It speaks to them in their language – in this case sheng – a combination of English and Swahili which nearly all young people in Kenya understand
• It talks to the audience about the things they want to hear about – mainly sex and money!
• It is constantly informed by rigorous focus grouping and testing of attitudes with its target audience
• It is backed up across a whole series of communication channels – facebook, twitter, web, and a call centre (they are having 450,000 conversations on facebook per year!)
The critical thing is that it doesn’t start from a “worthy” message. It starts from where people are. So – to paraphrase its creator Rob Burnett: Kenyan boys are mainly interested in attracting Kenyan girls. The Kenyan girls aren’t interested if the boys have no money. Shujaaz brings them messages about how to make a little money – perhaps through improving their crop yields by soaking their seeds. But it always puts it in the context of “what motivates the kids”.
Rob’s presentation this morning was the highlight for me of the Sharefair (#sfrome) conference I am attending in Rome. I am here looking for new partners and new ways of working for our knowledge sharing service Practical Answers. I am really hoping that we might be able to use shujaaz to get information out there, to people who can benefit from our simple technologies.
To be honest I don’t feel like its rocket science but it’s inspiring to see such a fantastic communications project – delivering real benefits in Kenya.

My 1,400 mile charity cycle challenge

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011 by

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.

Chapel - Col des Aravis

Church and bicycle - Beaufort


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:


the only way is up..

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…

the reception at the summit of the Telegraphe


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:

Amongst the Giants in Valloire

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:


looking back at the way we came


Looking down on the summit of the famous Col du Galibier...


The 38km descent was exhilarating and I never realised 65kmh could feel so fast!

they could at least have got my name right..


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:


the Izouard was so hard






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:

atop the Cime de Bonnette


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.

the descent to St Sauveur-sur-Tinee

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.

a beautiful valley south of Utelle

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!

our first view of the Med..


Finally, after more than 3 weeks and 1,400 miles I had made it!!


Let the celebrations begin…!

Mike and Eileen crack open the champagne...

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 to show your support.

Technology Justice

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 by

Over the past 12 months or so we at Practical Action have been been working on a concept we call Technology Justice. I have talked a bit about this in my blog before, but last week a Practical Action supporter, Sam Charles-Edwards, put up a really interesting and thoughtful post on his own blog, reviewing the idea and commenting on how we plan to use it. You can see his blog here. Sam raises some valid points, including asking why we might be interested in using such a concept in the first place. He suggests one of the principle purposes of using a term such as “justice” might be to highlight injustices that exist in the world today. In this he is spot on. Practical Action is interested in promoting public debate about the huge injustices that result from the way the world develops and uses technology today.

I thought it might be useful to talk a little about these injustices today, which I believe can be thought of under 3 headings:

1.      A large part of humanity cannot access already existing technologies that would help them achieve a decent standard of living

Human development has always gone hand-in-hand with technical change.  Technology development and adaptation enables people to achieve wellbeing with less effort and drudgery, or at lower cost and with fewer resources.  Improved technologies can make a huge difference to people’s lives – providing access to basic services such as water, energy, transport and housing; helping in the development of sustainable livelihoods and providing for reliable and sufficient food supplies; providing the platform from which improvements in health, education, income and wellbeing can be achieved. In short, though the development and use of technology has not always been for the good of all, we know access to improved technology can be an effective lever out of poverty and that conversely, its absence is almost always a key feature of living in extreme poverty.

But today a substantial part of humanity still lacks access to the basic technologies that would help them achieve even a very basic minimum standard of living. For example: 1.6 billion people do not have access to electricity; 2.4 billion people still depend on traditional biomass for cooking; 1.5 billion people still live in inadequate shelter; 1.3 billion people still have no access to safe water; and 2.6 billion have no sanitation. In many cases the technologies necessary to solve these problems already exist. The injustice is that a substantial part of humanity is excluded from their benefits.

 2.      Our technological efforts to innovate are now focussed mostly on the ‘wants’ of consumers rather than the ‘needs’ of those least well off.

This is the Bill Gates argument that there must be something wrong with our priorities given that we spend more each year on researching a cure for male baldness than we do for finding a vaccine for malaria. There are many areas where the interests of the poor in the developing world would benefit from further research – improving the efficiency of the small scale low input farming techniques that around 60% of the population of sub Saharan Africa rely on for their food and livelihoods being one such example. The injustice here relates to the misapplication of technological effort. Today’s technology research and development is largely financed by commercial institutions and, consequently, concentrates on technologies which have the potential to produce the greatest financial return rather than having the greatest impact of quality of life.

 3.      We make technology choices today that limit other people’s ability to make choices now and in the future.

The choices we make in developing and using technologies shape our society and can, ultimately, limit or impact on the choices others can make now, and in the future. There are examples of this all around us today. The development of bio fuel based on corn in the US leads to a rise in the price of corn in international markets and a corresponding rise in the price of tortillas, the staple food in Mexico; so in this case US consumers choice of fuel impacts on the affordability of food for people in Mexico. Or another example – our addiction to fossil fuel based technologies will leave a legacy of climate change for our grandchildren to deal with; in this case our choice of technology today limits future generations’ ability their choices and options. The injustice here is that those who make the choices (generally consumers or those representing their interests today in the developed world) are often not those who will face the negative consequences (the poor and marginalised or future generations).

Do have a read of Sam’s post on his blog and, if you feel inspired to post a comment yourself I’d be very interested to hear you views.


Practical Action has adopted the principle of Technology Justice to try to focus attention on these issues. We define Technology Justice as combining a right – that all people should be able to choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value – with a corresponding responsibility – that this right could be enjoyed only so long as that choice does not compromise the ability of others and future generations to do the same.   

We hope to use this to start a debate on how we want to govern technology development and use in the future. It is a debate, we believe, that is central not just to the fight against poverty in the developing  world but also to the understanding what a sustainable world for al of mankind might look like.

Earthquake in Nepal

Monday, September 19th, 2011 by

I was about to leave a social function at 6:30pm yesterday (Sunday), when the ground started trembling. I realised that it was an earthquake, so I guided all in the room to kneel down near the door and cupboards.

Once we felt that it was all over, we all ran outside. I started ringing my wife at home, but the mobile was not working so I rushed home. When I reached home, my wife told me she ran out in an open area as soon as she noticed that it was a quake. However, my kids were very smart. They did not come out of the house but instead covered their head and stayed calm under a big table until the tremor was gone. This was what they were taught in their school.

It was an earthquake measuring 6.9 Richter scale with the epicentre somewhere in the east near the Nepal and India border. The news reported that 21 people were severely injured, 68 people injured and over 200 houses were damaged in eight districts. The tremor was felt across 20 districts of Nepal. Three people were killed in Kathmandu after a wall of the British Embassy collapsed over a car and motorbike.

Nepal has been ranked as the 11th most earthquake-prone country in the world. In terms of human casualty risk, Kathmandu is billed as the most risk-prone area in the world.

The Practical Action Nepal Office is working to reduce disaster risk, but it is mostly in the field of community based disaster risk reduction and mainly floods and landslides. Practical Action has worked with communities in Peru to build earthquake-resistant houses. Now it is high time to get engaged in earthquake preparedness in Nepal as well, which could come up in our next strategy.

CREST awards go global with Practical Action

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 by

At the British Science Association’s festival on Tuesday we launched our brand new Global CREST Challenges as new project ideas for students taking part in the CREST award scheme.

Global CREST challenges - launch In her introductory speech at the STEM in Education evening Katherine Mathieson , Head of Education at the British Science Association introduced Practical Action as one of their key new partners. She said our CREST awards added a new dimension to the CREST award scheme that she was confident would be popular with schools throughout the UK.

CREST awards are given to students who do in depth project work with the support of a mentor on an area they are interested in. Our resources give them ideas for projects relating to science and technology in the developing world. Project areas are divided into five themes

• Water
• Food
• Energy
• Transport
• Shelter
Projects can involve up to 70 hours of work so this is a really high level of engagement for students. To support them we are pointing them towards Practical Answers’ technical briefs, technical information provided by Practical Action to real engineers working in developing countries around the world.  Representatives of other organsiations were also impressed with our new resources.

”Part of what we are about is developing partnerships between research scientists and people in developing countries. I really like the idea of work of this nature being developed at a schools level”
David Dickinson, Director SciDev.Net
Please do take a look at our awards and promote to any schools you may have links with.

Schumacher at Oxford and engineering at Bradford

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 by

In mid-September, Oxford University held their annual alumni weekend, where a Schumacher centenary lecture was one of the events on the programme.  This was held at Rhodes House, where Schumacher was enrolled as a Rhodes Scholar in 1930. Speaking to a packed house, Dr Donald Markwell, Warden of Rhodes House outlined details of Schumacher’s time at Oxford and his subsequent career, concluding that the Foundation had chosen very well when they selected him as a Scholar.

Schumacher’s daughter, Barbara Wood, author of his biography ‘Alias Papa‘, talked about her father and some of the influences that formed his philosophy and shaped his work.

Other speakers were Practical Action’s Simon Trace, who described how Practical Action is putting Schumacher’s ideas into practice in the developing world.  The final speaker was Ann Pettifor of Advocacy International, who talked about the world’s current economic woes and the need to revisit the principles expounded in ‘Small is Beautiful’ to tackle our current crises both financial and environmental.

A lively crowd of science buffs came together on 14th September to discuss how engineers can help tackle poverty in the developing world.  This event formed part of the British Science Festival which this year took place in Bradford and was one of a series of events that Practical Action is organising to celebrate the centenary year of our founder, E F Schumacher.

Taking as their starting point Schumacher’s ideas in ‘Small in Beautiful’ published nearly 40 years ago, Simon

Bradford Science Festival

Trace of Practical Action and Sacha Grodzinski of Engineers without Borders (EWB), led a lively discussion of technology options for poor communities in the developing world.

Technologies debated included biogas for cooking, animal vaccination programmes and the transport of crops across the mountains of Nepal. The audience were full of ideas and technical wizardry to solve these tricky problems, during a game of technology bingo.

Simon Trace  introduced the audience to a range of Practical Action’s work and they were particulaly intrigued by the recipe for lollipops for cows and growing pumpkins on sandbars in Bangladesh.

Sacha Grodzinski then described how EWB harnesses the expertise of engineers from the UK to assist with projects in the developing world.  Their programmes enable engineers to volunteer in projects in the developing world which take in account the a sustainable use of natural resources and minimise impact to the local environment by adapting existing low risk technology and using modern engineering methods.

Animated discussions were ongoing as the crowd departed for their next event at this exciting exploration of science and its impact on the world.

No words – MEP Delegation to Kenya – Energy for All 2030

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 by

If you’ve heard of a ‘slum’ chances are it’s Kibera.

‘Home’ to anywhere between 750,000 – 1 million people, Kibera is the largest informal settlement in East Africa (and yet it covers less than 2 miles).

The Kenyan authorities refuse to recognise Kibera and the people who live there, even though it’s one of the first things the decision-makers see in the morning from their grand houses on the hill over-looking the expanse of tin roofs. To acknowledge Kibera would mean that they have a responsibility to provide basic services; water, sanitation, education and electricity – which they won’t commit to.

And so the people exist without them. I use ‘exist’ purposefully. Kibera is, without question, the most miserable and maddening place I have ever visited.

I’m writing this blog late at night as I can’t sleep. Can’t quite process what I have seen. Can’t quite understand how and why families are forced to try and survive in such circumstances.

How is it possible that on this planet of ours, such poverty can exist alongside such plenty?

All that you have heard about Kibera is true … and ten-fold. Free-flowing faeces, huge mounds of waste, homes made from cardboard. No space, no privacy, no dignity. And, amongst all of this, hundreds and hundreds of children and hundreds and hundreds of ‘howareyou’s – an image I just can’t seem to shake.

And yet, there is also an underlying dynamism, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s not life as we know it (and not, in my opinion, life as anyone should know it), but here businesses are established, families grow and people will fight to improve their lives.

But that’s despite, not because of, their circumstances.

I’m humbled, enraged and overwhelmed by Kibera, but the one thing I’m clear on is the need for solutions, however small.

… and thanks to Practical Action and other NGOs there are some. I’ll share them in my next blog (once I’ve had some sleep).


6 Years after Practical Action’s Intervention

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 by

When we left for Kitale I knew I was going to meet my old acquaintances and friends and even probably share in their excitement since the last time I had met them. The road from Kisumu is remarkably improved. The distance seemed to have been reduced because they are done well. I was not disappointed. However, during the two-and-a-half hour drive, it was the good thoughts of the people I had spent time with in Kitale that were flowing through my mind and neither the landscape nor smooth roads. I knew we had started a good thing with this community and I was certain that they had flown with it.

I was certain that if this was true, Practical Action’s on-going project People’s Plans in to Practice (PPP) would definitely be scaling up good initiatives started by the organisation. I was anxious throughout the journey. What would I see in Kipsongo slum our first stop in Kitale the following day?

We met members of Akiriamriam group, a women’s group formed in 2001, still focussed on their core activities. Their activities revolve around initiating and sustaining income generating activities. In order to improve their shelter they were encouraged to start a savings scheme. The savings will be used to improve their shelter using cheaper but better building technologies that last longer introduced by Practical Action. The group was also supported to construct a water and sanitation facility and received training on building and construction and hygiene practices.

Equipped with the skills, they faced another hurdle – they couldn’t put their acquired skills into practice in the village due to the challenge of land tenure in Kipsongo. They were however linked with other players in the building industry to provide services as masons. This has since had positive impact in the people’s lives.


Akiriamriam Women Centre in Kipsongo

“When we started practicing what we had been taught, our lives changed for the better. It was an eye opener.” said Patricia a group member.

The transformation evident in the people’s lives is a sure sign that proper application of appropriate technology and skills is a good starting point to improve the well-being of the poor.

On the road to the High Alps…

Monday, September 12th, 2011 by

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…