Friday, 22 May 2015

Mission Completed - With the Aid of a Power Gel Wrapper


Well  I made it! My mission to ride from Como, over the Alps, to Beaune in France, is complete. 661km of superlative riding, I kept to my schedule with only two short train rides taken, only a couple of days with bad weather, and finally with the aid of an energy gel wrapper on my very last day (more of that later).
I now have time sitting in the beautiful town of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, with a glass of their local product at my side, to start recounting the final days of my tour.
Monday 18/5

 Oh yes, I left you all in Lucerne, from there I continued north on EuroVelo5 in the direction of Basel. Here I saw another Switzerland, away from the mountains, meadows, and cow-bells, of large industrial areas, and shopping malls. However, on reaching Aarau I was back riding along the banks of great rivers with many other cyclists to keep me company. Then came the sting in the tail with a huge 600m climb over the Jura mountains. I was alone, no other cycle -tourists, they obviously knew better!  
My stop-over that night was at a B&B, in an appartment run by Frau Gold, a pensioner, who apparently had never hosted a cyclist before and couldn't quite fathom how I had cycled all the way from Lucerne ( I didn't mention where I had actually started my tour and where I was heading!) Frau Gold was most welcoming and sat me down to a large cup of coffee and pastries. I helped to fix her Internet router so I could have WiFi. She was most appreciative!
Tuesday 19/6

This was the day I left Switzerland and crossed into France. In Basel I rode on their fine network of city cycle paths that led to the mighty River Rhine (sorry, another selfie there) and then continued on busy roads in France  which weren't very cycle friendly, to the walled city of Belfort. In my opinion, the defences of this city begin well outside the perimeter with a series of hill ranges which would deter any aggressor, but not  a determined cyclist! In Belfort I spent the night in a Budget Ibis Hotel (the showers here are akin to a plastic coffin/cubicle) and the day after joined Eurovelo 6 for the remainder of tour. 
Wednesday and Thursday20-21/5

Eurovelo 6 is the cycle path that crosses Europe East to West from The Atlantic to Budapest. I had decided to ride part of it westwards and what a great experience it is!
Most of it is traffic-free, flat, and runs alongside rivers and canals, The Doubs and The Rhone. On these routes one pedals effortlessly and has time to take in the scenery, wildlife, and canal activity of barges ( most of which have cycles on board).

 On these days I was able to clock up long distances without excessive effort and on Thursday I succeeded in recording my longest distance of the tour, 108k.(see stats)
Whereas Switzerland  had the sheer physicality and power to impress ones mind , riding France had a much  subtler sensory quality that affected ones sight, hearing and smell. It was as if each bend in the river path gave up new reflections in the water (impressionistic cycling?)or the wind blew the waves in new patterns. Such was the French artistic cycling experience. A Bonjour, a nod, a smile from all the other passing cyclistes - the Velo culture dominates this country.

Friday 22/5
Of course as is usual with me the drama was left to the last (day of riding). This was on the stage from Dole to Beaune.
Whilst pedalling along the serene banks of the Soane there was a fierce bang that alarmed the ducks on the canal into a flurried flight. My rear tire had blown and was torn. My heart sank, although the problem wasn't as bad as I had suffered in Scotland with a broken frame, but  I still had to find a solution if I wasn't to put my rendezvous with the bus in jeopardy (I was 40km from Beaune, in the middle of a French nowhere).
So I dragged up from the recesses of my cycling memory an old mountain bikers fix for such calamities, placing the foil wrapper of a power bar/gel inside the tire under the tear to protect the inner tube. After sucking out the gooey gel (yuch) I did exactly that. Swapped the tires round, so there would be less weight on the front, pumped up, and it held! In fact it held, all the way to Beaune, over some rough tracks too, re-inflating every so often. Was I relieved to take that selfie at the entrance to Beaune! I raise now my glass of Burgondy to the 'recycling' of energy gel wappers!

That's it! Thanks for staying with the Blog of my adventure to the sticky end, and thanks to all for your messages and comments. Very special thanks,of course, to Yvonne who unselfishly encouraged me to do the tour and for her practical help at the start, which were over and above the limits of marital duty!🚲😊❤️

The Final Route - as planned !

Ride Stats:
18/5 Lucerne to Gilderkinden 84.21km, 8hours, 865m agg.climbs
19/5 Gilderkinden to Belfort. 96.57km, 9 hours, 788m agg climbs.
20/5 Belfort to Hyevre-Parroise. 96.57k,8 hours, 788m ag climbs.
21/ 5 Hyevre-Parroise to Dole. 108km, 8 hours, 164m agg climbs
22/5 Dole to Beaune 77.03 km, 7 hours,  205m agg climbs.

Total distance of tour 661km.

Posted from Leeds UK - reached by bus - but that's another Blog!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Four Days in The Alps - The Story So Far

I haven't been able to post a Blog every day due to unreliable internet connections or tiredness at the end of a day spent  toiling in the fresh air (know that feeling?) - anyway I am now established at Luzerne Youth Hostel with time to spare, feeling relatively alert  a after good day's riding, and with a beer to lubricate my  neurons - I will now offer a summary of my last three days over (and under)the Alps.

A day spent exploring the Lugano area. It was a very hot (30C) so  I decided to keep my ride short (ha,ha) and have time at the end to relax by the side of  Lake Lugano.
 The road that goes around the lake had a constant stream of cyclists (everybody greets the other with a wave!) which is great to see,and be part off, but I decided I needed more solitude, so after paying my respects to the Lugano lake promenade I took off into the surrounding  Mountains and found the well-named Paradiso Trail..

 This took me on a 400 meter climb up to the mountain villages then into the forest above Lake Lugano. Magnificent views and a great descent to the lake at the end.

There was an almighty thunderstorm during the night that shook the Youth Hostel and the rain came down in torrents. This was the day that my real trek across the Alps was to begin and there was no question of delaying it as I had to keep to my schedule. 
So wearing all my rain gear I set off into the deluge. That day I was the only cyclist on the road! Mad dogs, cyclists, and........

After only 15kms riding in these filthy conditions I was soaked to the skin, couldn't navigate or see my GPS, and the bike's gears were malfunctioning so I took shelter in the entrance to a factory warehouse. As the rain eased a little I noticed I was actually situated next to a train station, that was all the fortune I needed and within 30 minutes my bike and I were on the train heading north to my next stop-over, a convent hostel.

The convent hostel at Faido was a suitable place to take refuge and dry out. The nuns were very sympathetic! Luckily all my clothes in the panniers had remained dry as I had placed extra waterproof  bags inside for this eventuality.

The next day broke bright and sunny and I rode 15 km up to Airolo which is at the foot of the St Gothard pass lying at about (1,100m). There was no way I was going to attempt the St Gothard itself (2106m) with a fully laden bike, (not to speak of possibly blowing my heart monitor!) so I elected to take the 10 minute train ride under the mountain instead.

The pay-off was a 20km descent on the other side of the pass on a narrow road that twisted and turned between the snow-capped mountains - one of the best and longest downhills I've experienced, all to the soundtrack of cowbells!

When the road eventually levelled out at Lake Lucerne I realised that I had booked my next stop over in a chalet guesthouse in Isenthal, a picturesque village (was it used for the film Heidi??) and I had a finale of a 400m climb. Fittingly this was up a single-track road that is a favourite of local mountain-bikers, so I had company and encouragement of two women riders all the way up. The cycling culture here is terrific!

The guesthouse chalet in Isenthal was excellent in a very Swiss setting. The return descent to Lake Lucerne was thrilling including 'a tunnel of death' where the screech of my brakes was an amplified sound effect!
The ride around Lake Lucerne demonstrated to me the Swiss genius for road building in extreme topography. My cycle path ran along a cliff, next to the main road , through tunnels and galleries of stone high above the lake. This was a unique cycling experience.
I completed my ride to Lucerne by taking cycle-route #38 which took me up some steep climbs above the lake-side villages (see my exhausted expression below)

And then on forestry MTB trails down into Lucerne,all excellently signed. The contrast on arriving at the glitzy lido of Lucerne couldn't have been greater. Though the Casino did have bikes outside, are there gambling cyclists? I had been gambling on those trails and it had certainly paid out!

Ride Stats:
Thurs 14/5. 27kms, 4 hours, 505m agg climbs

Fri 15/5 15kms, 2.5 hours,89m agg climbs, 

Sat 16/5 60kms, 7 hours, 919m agg climbs, 845m descents.

Sunday 17/5  70kms, 7 hours, 703m  agg climbs, 1002m descents

Posted from Lucerne YH 18/5/15

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Day1: Como to Figino

am pleased to report that I landed at Milan Malpensa and after a tense period of waiting, my bike emerged in a distant corner of the arrivals hall. I was helped in locating my precious box by the manager of the luggage claim who told me he was a mountain biker too, so that was my first bit of  luck! I could hardly have begun this new adventure without my bike!

So today was my first full day of riding and what a pleasure it mostly was. I left my rustic B&B in the outskirts of Como and cycled through the old town centre to the shore of Lake Como. After the standard tourist selfie to prove I was actually there I set off northwards in the direction of Switzerland. My real tour was beginning!

Route signs for cyclists in this part of Italy were severely lacking, so I had to rely on navigating by GPS on a route I had already devised. It wasn't easy finding my direction through these border towns and villages and there were some long climbs if I took the wrong turning. Eventually I found the border crossing in the middle of Chiasso and was waved through by the guards - cycle tourists are obviously low grade risks!

After passing through an industrial area on a busy road, suddenly cycle route signs started appearing with typical Swiss orderliness - I was riding the North-South national cycle route , No.3, which took me on paths and side roads into a stunning Swiss landscape that was hard to believe was for real. I was on my way!

Day 1 Stats: 47 Km, 7 hours ( including selfie breaks), 371metres acc. climbs, 0 punctures, 1 Lugano lake-side beer, 100 (?) hello's from passing cyclists!

Posted from Figino Youth Hostel 14/5/15

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


Thanks for visiting my Blog ! It will keep you up to (pedalling) speed with my  ride across the Alps from Italy to France.

My plan is to fly to Milan Malpensa , assemble the bike, then catch a train to Como. From there I will begin my great Alpine Traverse, northwards into Switzerland, and on into France. This has been a longstanding ambition of mine! My objective is to link up with a bus in France, that will take me to Leeds in the UK. I have about 10 days to do the 650 km route. 

The above does not include the kilometres I will be ascending! Actually, the highest pass, St Gothard (2,106 metres) may still be snow-bound, so I will have to travel underneath the mountain by train. I will have to save this particular challenge for another time!

My route is based on the Eurovelo network of cycle-paths that crisscross Europe. I will be following parts of Eurovelo 5 (EV5) which is the north south pilgrims route - The Via Romea Francigena - and EV6, the Atlantic to Black Sea route.

So my bike is in its box ready for air transit tomorrow, my panniers are packed with all the clothing and equipment I may need, and let's hope I can complete the task ahead. Thanks for all the messages of support and I will try and keep you all posted.