Friday, 4 July 2014

A Most Remarkable Day and a Support Crew Members Thoughts

You know, there are times in your life when you really feel that something you have just witnessed is positively jaw dropping. The west Highland Way Race was one such thing. It’s taken me a wee while to gather my thoughts on this, in fact as I start writing I’m still not sure if I have but I want to get something down to keep a record of the experience I had.
The week building up to the event had been totally manic for me so having discussed with Amanda I decided to get a full nights sleep on the Friday and pick them up on the Saturday morning. So my part in all this started as I turned up at Beinglas Farm and was greeted by a beaming Helen and my first of many hugs that day.
John was manning the checkpoint tent looking extremely important. He was surrounded with checkpointy type paraphernalia and a table that was almost invisible due to the covering of deceased midges that had clearly not toed the line and paid the ultimate price. Team Amanda members, Sarah and Clark were there too and all peering intently south waiting for the arrival of runners coming in.
As it turned out I didn’t have to wait too long for Amanda to arrive and suddenly there she was, bang on schedule plonking herself down in the chair and the team suddenly swinging into action. Nothing had really been discussed as to who was doing what to her but everybody seemed to naturally home in on various body parts on which to administer tlc. I found myself assuming responsibility for foot maintenance and duly massaged, cleared grit, replaced socks and refitted shoes. Then John came over to offer encouragement in the form of abuse as it seemed he didn’t want to be up late waiting around for lazy ultrarunners late into the night, so duly chastised Amanda scurried off up the track.
We had a bit of time to kill now so we toddled off to the Green Welly in search of refreshments and found not only that but a gathering of Dafties in the form of Dave Mooney, Julie, Aurel although I was sorry to have missed Peter who had just set off on his relay leg. So hugs a plenty and cake too (win, win).
Now, time and Ultrarunners wait for no man so we headed off for the next checkpoint at Auchtertyre. I rode down on my bike due to car number restrictions and spied a Gannet masquerading as an official who was pointing cars to go in various directions, great to see him as I hadn’t seen him in ages. Then once again we assumed our positions, gazing intently like meerkets into the distance for our runner to arrive. Worryingly our first support runner, Angela had still not arrived and we knew that Amanda’s arrival was imminent. This was a bit of an issue as I began to wonder if I might need to get my head into running mode earlier than planned. Not a problem but it just meant a change of mind set from me, luckily though she arrived just before Amanda did. This time Amanda was actually sobbing quite a lot which was alarming but I supposed it was more the toll the run was taking on her rather than her disappointment that she was still lumbered with such a rubbish support crew. Clark had got some hot food on for her and we duly got her fed, watered, pampered and sent on her merry way once again.
So off we went again to the Green Welly, Clark and Sarah in the car while I rode back on my bike. Once there our crew was swelled by the arrival of David Meldrum and we were able to cheer Amanda and Angela through as they trotted by. Our plan now was to temporarily split up. Clark and Sarah headed to the Bridge of Orchy checkpoint for some kip and David and me went to the hotel for coffee and a catch up. After that we sauntered along to the checkpoint to clap runners in as they arrived.
Looking at the competitors coming in though we started to see some that we knew were running near Amanda so we decided best wake the others up as it looked like Amanda was going to be early. Sure enough she was very early, at least half an hour I think. The customary floods of tears started as we set to work on her. Pork casserole was on the menu and we got some of that into her. I turned down a helping, a decision I was to come to regret. I wasn’t hungry at that point and figured I’d get food at Glencoe. Amanda was to have some input in disappointing me there.
Anyhow, back to the present, we pushed Amanda back out of the checkpoint, this time accompanied by David and off they went up the hill. A while later Sarah noticed David had gone off without his water so rather than have him go two or three hours without I set off running up the hill to give him it. It was good to see that even with 60 miles done she was still making a good pace and I ran pretty much to the top Mam Carraigh before I caught them. Trotting back down again I cursed not starting my Garmin and missing a Strava segment opportunity.
We had a wee logistical chat then and decided that Angela and me would take my car to Kinlochleven then we’d drive to Glencoe, that way my car would be available for me after my support run. It was as we were setting off back to Glencoe from KLL we received the text from Sarah “How far away are you, she’s well ahead of schedule?” PANIC! OMG! “AAAARG about 20 minutes” I replied. So Angela’s foot pressed a little harder on the gas. So much for my getting something to eat at Glencoe there was going to be no time for that. Never mind, Angela donated a sandwich to me and I could have that if I couldn’t get anything hot later on.
On arrival back at Glencoe the rest of the crew were already bustling about getting ready and I set about having a wardrobe crisis. Trying to decide what to wear as it had gone a lot colder and rain was threatening. So after several costume changes I was finally settled and ready to run just as Amanda arrived over an hour early.
She was clearly exhausted now as we set off and to be honest I had no idea how best I could help her. She wasn’t up for conversation by now and with more than 70 miles covered that was hardly surprising. What filled me with awe was that she was suffering and had been for many hours yet she still had many hours to go. Her courage and determination was astonishing. I gently coaxed her up Devils Staircase which was a huge battle won for her and one I think she’d been fearing all along. Then for the rough path down toward the forest track I acted as her eyes almost by trying to find the smoothest most easily run line on the track as possible. She was in some risk of stumbling during a lot of that and I supported her whenever she needed it. I had no idea that at the time her head was having thoughts about maybe not getting past KLL. If I’d known I would have had no idea how to get her through that. In the scheme of things she was so close to the end really but when you’re hurting so much then even a normally short distance can seem like an uncrossable gulf. So I wasn’t going to say anything like “once you leave KLL you only have 14 miles left or 4hrs more” as I worried that that might mentally freak her out.
Arrive at KLL we did though and with it came the beginning of the end. John was ready for her as was the rest of the crew. The usual maintenance and sobbing took place before under the steady hand of John’s guidance she set off once more to tackle the big and final serious climb to Lairigmor.
For me I finally got the chance to eat as wonderfully the pub was still serving food even close to 11 o’clock.
No need for a menu for me “Got any curry?” I asked “Indeed we do” came the reply. I’m very easily satisfied and was soon tucking in and refuelling. Having been joined by Sarah and David we relaxed in a nice midge free environment for a wee while.
Next it was off to Lundavra and so in the early hours of the morning we warmed ourselves by the bonfire there and cheered in the runners as they came by while eagerly scrutinising each approaching torch light trying to identify Amanda. Suddenly she was approaching. We knew it was her as Helen said John carries a torch as well as a headtorch and that’s what we were seeing coming in. A huge cheer went up and a blast of Chariots of Fire on the stereo belted out. Everyone was excited seeing her still battling along and Sarah rushed round looking for something carby to give her. I resisted the temptation to offer a cheese and onion pasty as biscuits were available so she had those.
I was so happy to see her go back out from there looking ok as there was nothing short of catastrophic break down was going to stop her reaching Fort William. So we had a leisurely drive along to the finish to await our runner. I managed to get a little bit of kip before Sarah was banging on the car window saying to wake up as she wouldn’t be long.
I joined the small crowd at the finish as we all waited with anticipation for her arrival. Suddenly there was a ripple of applause and cheering from Helen just along the road and then she was here, crossing the line. She’d done it and if the feeling was amazing for me I could only guess how that must have felt for her. What an achievement, to have run 93 miles on rough trail in 26 hours and 7 minutes, two hours ahead of her predicted time.
The final few hours of the weekend involved a fairly stressful check in at the hotel for a few hours sleep and the award ceremony. This was where I got to see Amanda and all the other fantastic ultrarunners pick up their hard earned goblets. A highly emotional time as had been the whole run and a time that will stay in my memory forever.


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Conflicting Emotions

I’ve been having a few issues with running all year so far and I’ve been struggling to see the way ahead. Let me say right from the off my running is actually going really, really well on the whole. I love what I’m doing and I’ve never felt so fit. The thing is though, in a way that’s part of the problem. I feel so good and enthusiastic I just want to do everything. I want to race fast times right through from 5k up to 24 hours. In addition I want to do loads on the bike too as well as gym sessions.

The big problem though is ultras. I feel in order to perform well I need to give them 100% dedication without all the other things I’m cluttering up my training with. I know some won’t agree with that but I feel, for me at any rate that’s right. A few times lately I’ve been on long runs and felt my head wasn’t in the right place for doing all the miles. I know one thing is an absolute certain and that is if I turn up at the start of an ultra and I’m not fully prepared mentally then it doesn’t matter how fit I am I will crash and burn. In addition the two ultras I raced in last year did not go well and I had a couple of really bad experiences.

So I’ve got all this negativity and worry going on in my head on the one hand yet on the other I’ve been really, really enjoying shorter faster hillier running and my head keeps turning towards hill races. My speed is coming back and I’ve had a few really good 5k races and the 15k Devilla was awesome. I’m looking at 10k races and long hill races, half and full marathon etc. plus I want to get some really fast bike rides done. In addition, truth be told I’m actually pretty crap as an ultra-runner whereas in the more “normal” type of distances I’m actually quite good, I mean better than most anyway  and usually finish somewhere between the top 5%-20% of the field which for an old boy like me ain’t too shabby. So in my head I’m having debates such as if you are so good at that then why are you doing so much of what you’re crap at?

You see the problem? My head is so full of all this stuff it’s difficult to find time to get my head sorted regarding ultras. I really feel that if I go ahead with the ultra plans I have for the year I’m in for a torrid time.

So what I’m thinking is I need to take the worry away by focusing on what I’m really enjoying and put the ultras on a back burner. I don’t believe I can re-focus my head where it needs to be in time for the Fling so feel I have little option but to withdraw from that. Leaving aside the pressure of feeling I have to be ultra ready will leave the way open for me to do what my head really wants me to be doing just now and after all that should be why we’re doing it anyway right?

One thing above all else is that I’m not turning my back on ultras, just stepping aside for a little while. I have made so many unbelievably, fantastically, wonderful friends in ultra running and I have no intention of turning my back on any of you either. In fact I will continue to train with you as much as ever before. At least though if I have a bad long training run it won’t fill me with fear of trying to get ready for an imminent ultra.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

“Just a Wee Ultra”

There’s an old truism often spouted by wise old Clodhopper, aka UltraBob – red sky in the morning, ultra-runners warning, or some such things and such was the ominous view I had of a glowing red pre-dawn early light in my wing mirror as I drove toward Strathyre. Putting those kind of gloomy thoughts aside though, I felt really excited as I got parked up, registered and collected my race number. The gathering clans of ultra-runners heightened my excitement and pleasure. So did seeing so many friends and familiar faces and there was a thoroughly enjoyable babble of chatter as we all prepared ourselves for what was to lie ahead.

After a short race briefing we were all shepherded across the busy main road, an incredible feat of achievement in itself for the marshals who managed not to lose a single one of us this early on to roadkill as we all assembled at the start line. Such was the buzz going on and me chattering with Amanda we didn’t even here the start signal it just suddenly became clear that everyone in front of us were running so we thought best if we get going too.
So off we went and in true ultra-runners style we were walking rather than running within 20 meters as the first bit was a climb. With so much distance to run it’s a poor policy for most of us to run up any steep hills as we conserve energy for the long way ahead. Amanda and me settled into side by side running, much as we do in our training and it was great to do that as we kept each other company for at least the first 20 miles.

There was a good amount of easy descent on the first 7 miles so we breezed through Kingshouse in 1hr 14 before tackling the 4.5 mile climb up to the summit of the Glen Ogle Pass and our first drop bag stop. We had our first encounter here with our fantastic friends and supporters, John and Helen Munro who were whooping and cheering

us in in fine style. I’d been feeling pretty hot all the way to here so took the opportunity to ditch some kit, hat and gloves and fuelled up for the next section.
The next bit is a loop of the forest south of Killin that eventually brings us back to the same check point so it was here that we saw the leader on his return. He was flying along and was already 8 miles ahead of us at this point and he eventually went on to set a new course record. The descent down to Killin was really good running on not too steep paths that allowed us to make headway pretty quickly and we were soon at the start of the fairly strenuous climb back round to the checkpoint again.
It was here at around the 17 mile mark that the rain started. It wasn’t too bad at first but got harder and harder. There was snow in it too and it was pretty cold. By the time we got back to the checkpoint it was hammering down. I recollected the hat and gloves I’d earlier dumped and after refuelling we headed off back the way we’d first come earlier on.
Now, it was about this point, probably about 20 miles in that things started to go a bit pear shaped. I’m still not really sure what happened but I was getting wet and pretty cold. There are classic symptoms of hypothermia and the mild stage presents in the following way.
·        constant shivering
·        tiredness
·        low energy
·        cold or pale skin
I was ticking every box. It first became apparent when I couldn’t keep up with Amanda anymore and gradually dropped back from her. I then entered a vicious cycle where I was very cold but my work rate was lowering. Because my work output was lowering I was losing even more core temperature. Because I was losing core temperature my work rate was falling further and further and I found myself going into a real tailspin.
When I started on the Balquider loop I was soaked through to the skin despite a waterproof jacket with another 5.5 mile still to run. The rain was bouncing off the road so hard it was bouncing back up six inches from the road. Floods were developing that required splashing through and the wind was strengthening. I began to get seriously worried now about my wellbeing. I was so cold. Colder than I ever remember being and I felt I was in danger. I couldn’t even drink for fear that the cold water would further lower my core temperature. I knew I had to keep moving but projecting forward how much time I was going to be out for made me worry even more how much I was deteriorating.
The last couple of miles I was reduced to a walk and it seemed interminable. I found myself mentally ticking off every 10th of a mile, glancing at my Garmin every minute and worrying in case I’d gone wrong on the route somehow.
Just then though I caught site of the river and knew I must now be very close to the Shuggly Bridge and suddenly, yes there it was. I was crossing the bridge and the bright yellow apparitions standing before me were the smiling faces of the Munros and it was Marguerite photographing me as I shuffled along though I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, my teeth were chattering so much.

There is no greater relief in life than crossing the finish of an ultra but this one was special. I was gubbed that’s for sure. So cold as I stood by a fire. A cup of tea was thrust at me but I could barely hold it my hands were shaking so much. Drinking it was tricky as it was anyone’s guess where the cup might end up, my mouth, my ear, over the back of my head, who knows
The End :-) Two Yellow Munros

So grateful to everyone involved in today, the organisers, the supporters, my fellow friends and runners you were all magic with your congratulations, concern for me, your friendly words every one of you. The “Wee Ultra” gave me a big kick up the butt today that’s for sure but it appears that having run two ultra races my name has now acquired an exponent, I am now officially UltraBob²

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Our Euro Tour Day 12 to the Finish

Wed 28 august 2013 Bonn-Krefeld
one of our better hotel stops

63 miles

Wow what a breakfast today! We've cycled all this way to get a good breakfast and this one had it in spades. There was everything, sausages, scrambled eggs, lovely crispy bacon, cheeses, meats, different types of proper yoghurt with all sorts of fruit to add, pastries and nice coffee. I could barely move after stuffing myself.
Eating up all that ate up quite a chunk of the day too. It was well after half ten when we finally hit the road. Today though was easy riding along largely flat roads with a little downhill bias. We flirted with the Rhine Cycle Route when it suited us. It was lovely especially going through Cologne where the river side offered a safe and scenic route through the city with it's variety of old architecture from old cathedrals to modern apartment blocks and the opera house. 

So all in all a pretty good day producing the longest ride of the tour so far too. What's more tonight's meal of various meats, green beans and sauted spuds washed down with aldi wine was yummy.

Thursday 29th august Krefeld-Nijmegan

54 miles

So today we were to cross the final frontier as we moved north from Germany into Holland. Not that you could really tell the difference, this part of Germany looked identical to the miles of holland that we'd cycled in the past. Windmills, lovely smooth cycle paths for the most part and flat, flat flat.  Such was the sameyness of the route I found myself aiming the bike for acorns, I found if I ran right over them they made a nice crack, or even more fun was to try to catch them just with the edge of the wheel getting them to ping off to the side like riffle bullets. Well, it kept me amused as we rolled along
We came across one or two lovely little villages too. This is one of the best things about holland, so pretty in the village centres with lovely terraced cafes. I love those places and could sit there all day just watching folk going about their business. So even with the miles we had t do it was still nice to spend a good while in there nursing a rather delicious cappuccino.
Our accommodation tonight turned out to be excellent. Instead of the usual hotel this was an apartment in a really old building but it was great with a kitchen so we could cook rather than eat out and saved us a it of money. What's more there was a complementary bottle of wine and a bottle of beer, a fridge full up stuff for our breakfast and a coffee machine. Happy days. The town itself was great to look round too and had the most amazing cheese shop I've ever seen.

Fri 30th  August 2013 Nijmegan-Utrecht

47 miles

Bit of an end of term feeling for us today with both of us now feeling a little reluctant to get going as the end was drawing closer. After breakfast we lazed around probably a bit too long as we new we didn't have huge mileage to do. The trouble was yesterday was for the most part headwind and what we didn't realise was today was set to be pretty strong headwinds all day too. It was a nice enough ride though but it offered little inspiration and it was very much a case of just getting the ride done today.

The hotel turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The Holiday Inn Express we'd booked turned out to be right in the middle of a commercial zone. Desolate office blocks and water features. Whats worse was it had no restaurant either. Luckily we we're able to order in a takeaway from a local Thai restaurant that the hotel let you eat in the bar area. It was pretty good to but it was a shame we hadn't been able to look round the shops in Utrecht center especially as it was our last night.

Saturday 31 August 2013 Utrecht-Ijmuiden (Amsterdam Ferry Port)

48 miles

Getting out of Utrecht turned into a bit of a problem today. Sometimes my Garmin has a tendency to try to get me into trouble and sends us onto roads that we weren't allowed on. Sometimes it seams as though its led us into an impossible situation with no way out. It reminds me of one of those old Tomb Raider games where you have to probe away here and there when suddenly the way ahead is revealed, hopefully without any impaling spike pits to crash into.
It was a really pleasant ride with Holland Showing itself at its best with gorgeous canal side houses all over the place in beautiful rural settings.
Gradually, despite the headwind giving us a huge battle we closed the distance on the ferry. The last few miles on these trips are always full of mixed feelings. Sadness that the adventure was coming to an end but also happy to be going home to familiarity, Moss the dog and all my lovely friends.
The Amsterdam-Newcastle ferry is always good though. We got ourselves on board with minimal fuss and settled into our cabin, remarkably like a prison cell but met our needs for the night.
The hot buffet is awesome, there is so much stuff I couldn't even begin to list everything but it was delicious. We knew there was a strong wind blowing so we'd taken the precaution of taking sea sickness tablets and I'm sure it was these that had me nodding by nine o-clock an it wasn't to much later than that that we hit the sack. We'd be waking in the morning with just a 15 mile ride through Newcastle back to where we left the van, adventure over and with a fantastic on board breakfast inside us we would finally, after all that way be back in the UK.....till next time :-)

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Our Euro Tour Day 8,9,10 and 11

Saturday 24 August 2013.
The Gotthard Pass

Airolo - Andermatt 16 stonking miles
Today has been absolutely awesome! Mind you it started off with the usual rubbish breakfast. On the table there  was a bowl full of eggs and a warning label attached saying "raw eggs" nice, there was some kind of device that I think was meant to cook the eggs so I put a couple in and pressed the button expectantly, nothing happened. Then I noticed it wasn't plugged in, there wasn't even a socket near it so Marguerite took it across the room to where there was a socket and we tried again. This time the device did little more than squeak extremely loudly, much to our embarrassment, so we abandoned the eggs and ate whatever else was available. Little more than cereal, yoghurt and some bread and croissants that had been keeping the flies amused for some time.

The ride today though was absolutely memorable. A big, big climb for a reluctant tandem as we ascended switchback after switchback climbing over 3000' in 7 miles to the highest point we will reach on the tour at 6950'. The weather was considerably cooler too, whereas we'd thus far been used to temperatures in the high 20s low 30s we were now down at 16C and it was getting a bit drizzly. More like a Scottish day really.
There were quite a few little shops and restaurants etc dotted around the summit so we had a look around and I had a really delicious bratwurst before the cold got to us and we began our descent.
Another thing that tandems are not particularly good at is stopping. I was acutely aware of this as we headed down the steep road eying the approaching bends with some nervousness. If you let gravity take charge and the speed builds up, very quickly you reach a point where it's impossible to get the speed down sufficiently to take the next corner resulting in carnage.  The disk brake was applied pretty much full on just to stop us going supersonic and the front brake was being used as well to get our speed down for the corners. I tried not to think about the heat build up on the front rim and didn't dare thing about how that heat can build up until the tyre explodes probably killing us as we crashed off the road. We did have a couple of brake cooling stops but I was aware that even stopping the bike in a safe place required a huge amount of braking.
We got down though, but now the weather had really changed and it was pouring down, we were both freezing too so it was very lucky we'd booked a hotel here so we could get in out of the weather. Very lucky indeed as it proceeded to rain for the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday 25 August 2013

early morning traffic

Andermatt - Affoltern 58 miles
Another fantastic day in the Alps with ten miles of awesome if white knuckle descending. Bloody freezing though and we were layered up like we were back in Scotland.
It was a kinda strange morning though as I was having (and not for the first time) an ongoing battle with the garmin gps. I wanted to go directly to Brunnel from Altdorf but the gps was insisting in a rather blasé fashion that we should take an 80 mile detour over the 6500' Klausen Pass instead of the flat 15 mile lake side route. Erm, helloo, get real, it ain't happening. I refused to believe what the gps was telling me, ie that there was no possible bike route along side the bikes forbidden lake road. So it was with some trepidation we munched our lunchies and headed out lake side.

I needn't have worried though, there was an excellent bike path complete with dedicated bike tunnels all the way along a really lovely route so up yours Garmin!

So that was the Alps pretty well done, only a couple off wee foothills in the last 30 miles of the days ride as we purred along Lake Zug until we cruised into Affoltern.
Here though we found we'd got ourselves a booking in a completely bizarre hotel. Seemed to be a combination of hotel, bar, Thai restaurant (closed of course), and some kind of house of ill repute with ladies wandering about all over in various states of undress. can't remember this feature being described on
Never mind, us travellers have to take these things in our stride and we got on with all the usual chores of bib short washing and bum callous attention that was daily aspect of normal life these days.
Once freshened up we had a bit of an explore of the town and identified suitable and unsuitable watering holes before settling for yet another pizza. I never thought I'd find myself getting sick of pizzas but I don't think I'd mind if I don't have another. At least till get back and make one of my own.

Monday 26 august

Affoltern - Basel 55 mile
Difficult to say much about today, certainly where the ride was concerned. It was non eventful and fairly mundane riding after the Alps. The scenery now was very like the North Yorkshire Hills round by Osmotherley for those who know it. Mind you the ride did manage to throw in a fair number of unexpected stiff climbs along the way to Basel. The traffic in Basel was a nightmare, very, very busy and intimidating to ride in. Even with the gps it was difficult avoiding getting onto roads that we weren't allowed on and it was a relief to finally get to a nice hotel in the middle of the city.

Even later after we'd settled in to the hotel and we had a walk round the town we were in imminent danger of getting squashed by trams. they hurtle along and trying to guess which track they're on isn't always obvious. It was worth it though for the lovely Chinese meal we had. A nice change from pizza and pasta.

Tuesday 27 Aug

Transition Day to Bonn
one of many trains
There was always going to be a transition day on the journey as we just didn't have time to ride the whole way and we decided it may as well be today. The plan being to get as far north as would leave us with enough mileage but not too much to complete before the ferry departs from Amsterdam on Saturday. On paper today should have been fairly straight forward. All we needed to do was get us and the bike onto the 12:20 train from Basel to Bonn. The station was literally half a mile from the hotel too. So, it was a nice leisurely breakfast enjoyed and we strolled round to the ticket office. This is where things became apparent we might have a leeeetle problemo. There are various types of train in Germany, the super fast ICE trains (no bikes) the fast national trains (that we wanted to get on) and regional trains that stop everywhere.
While the ticket office man was incredibly helpful he could not get us on to a fast train as the bike compartment was fully booked. All we could do is string regional trains together and take an eight hour journey involving six different trains and much humping of fully loaded tandem around six different stations.  So that's how we spent the day, people watching on slow trains. One particularly interesting chap was reading his magazine when a couple of pages fell out and landed on the floor. He proceeded to jump up, stamp up and down on the pages like they committed a personal affront on him. He then placed the magazine in his bag and then beat the hell out of his bag. Thankfully this dubious character got off at the next station.
We did have some good luck on the journey though. One of our changes was a four minute window. Our train was running late and we assumed we'd miss it. This would have meant we'd get to Bonn an hour and a half later but there was a train on what I thought was the right platform. There were masses of people on the platform and we fought and pushed our way through and flung ourselves onto the train just as it set off.
Once underway though, doubts crept in. "Are you sure we're on the right train?" I tentatively asked Marguarite  "No I'm not sure, not sure at all" she said. I tried to deduce where we were headed reasoning we were following a major river, probably the Rhine so that was good cos as far as i know all major rivers north of the Alps flow north. Also tv satellite dishes all face south so I new we were going north but it was quite a while till we got confirmation from the conductress that we were ok.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Our Euro Bike Tour Day 6 - 7

Thursday 22nd Aug.

41 miles Novaro - Bellinzona

Much better breakfast today. Loads of cheese, meat, bread, fruit, even scrambled egg and bacon (cold). Pasta was available too and the Bardiani guys were making good use of that. Cold un-sauced pasta for breakfast though, hmmmm, not sure about that.
We reluctantly set off after breakfast, both of us feeling like we could have gone back to bed but the road was beckoning. Again though it was outrageously hot and our first job was to deal with a series of uphil switchbacks. During the climb my GPS decided it might be good to try some off roading and we found ourselves attempting to ride a precipitous rough farm track. Some rapid deselecting of certain route choice options had us back on a sensible route with little harm done. After this initial steep climb over about three miles, the route settled in to a reasonably easy gentle climb. The main issue again was the heat. Our speed had dropped because of the gradient and as we had a slight tail wind we were cooking for most of the time. Italy spat us out in style though with a fantastic descent on very fast, long switchbacks. We reached our highest speed of the tour so far on that descent as we hit 48mph and dropped down to Lake Lugano and the border town of Ponte Tressa.
The rest of the ride Was relatively straight forward with a gentle climb but nothing too formidable and we were in the hotel at a nice reasonable three o-clock. Mind you the hotel was pretty rubbish and damned expensive too at 120 Swiss francs but that seemed to be the way in Switzerland, expensive.
 Anyway, it was a quaint little town with lots of old picturesque stuff to look at on our browse through the town. A nice looking restaurant caught our eye and we decided we'd eat there. Bad move, the food was awful, at least mine was. A yucky starter of aubergine, courgete, peppers and cheese on the most bitter lettuce I've ever eaten. That was followed by a bland pizza full of tasteless rubbery seafood and we were plagued by flies. All for the equivalent price of £31 each! Grief they know how to charge in Swizerland.

Friday  23 Aug  2013

37 mile miles Bellinzona - Airolo

My, the price of stuff in Swizerland continues to be outrageous. You can't really get a room for much under £100 and often that gets you a really rubbish one. The one we spent last night was pretty poor. Decor a la Bates Motel, even the breakfast was stingy. 
Still, the ride made up for it with lovely quiet roads and a constant but gentle uphill gradient, still damned hot though. In fact, the further we road the more I started to feel the Alps were toying with us, lulling us into a false sense of security and making us think we were going to just breeze through barely noticing them, hmmmmm. We got to around 20 miles in pretty good time and bought some lunch from a supermarket and sat and ate it on the path by the car park. After lunch though the character of the route changed dramatically as we started doing some proper ascent. Tandems really do not like climbing and we laboured slowly but steadily for the next 15 mile climbing some 3000' amid breathtaking scenery up to the village of Airolo, a pretty little outdoor activity village with tremendous mountain views.
It was curious as we were riding along the valley road. Looking up the mountains and seeing houses built up there. I mean, why would you build a house several thousand feet up a mountain accessible only by a tortuous mountain track that meant a major expedition just to by a baguette? Don't get it!
Airolo was to be our launching point for the crux of the entire journey, a long steep series of switchbacks taking us up to the tour high point of just under 7000' but that could wait for tomorrow.
For once the hotel was actually really nice albeit very expensive as usual but we had a private balcony with spectacular mountain views. We took a strol round the village looking for eating options before settling on some booty from the coop to supplement our meal in the hotel restaurant.
The meal turned out to be excellent, three course for the bargain price of about £18. Even the hitherto surly waitress managed to crack the odd smile or two, eventually.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Our Euro Bike Tour Day 4-5

Tuesday 20th August

55 mile. Asti to Novara
Today started off with a pretty crappy breakfast of a single chocolate croissant and coffee. Oh, and we had to sit in the hotel lobby to have it for some reason. Still, it gave us some sort of fuel I suppose as we set off into yet another scorcher of a day, 30 odd C for the most part and an annoying nagging headwind thrown in. At least there were some interesting villages on route to keep us amused. Why, oh why though were they all on top of bloody massive hills? They were steep too,  consisting of several switchbacks that caused the speed to fall away and for the full intensity of the heat to hit us.

At least coming out of the villages gave us some nice but all to brief downhills. It's true to say that today took a lot out of us. I wasn't particularly the distance that got to us, just the unrelenting heat and headwind that combined to dehydrate us. In addition our water was warming up in the bottles, yuck yuck yuck! In fact towards the end of the ride we were stopping for drinks and I was feeling thirsty even as we were setting off again.
We had a few dicy incidents with Italian motorists today too. Some of them pass way too close. I was trying to make myself feel a little better by thinking "hopefully they know what they're doing". I tried not to notice how many cars and trucks had big gouges down the side, clearly indicating they hadn't a clue what they were doing.
I seem to be a magnate for all the nasty bitey stinging things here to as I'm getting covered in lumps of assorted sizes and degrees of itchiness. At one point I think I got stung on my leg by a wasp. It stung like mad for ages and ages but I braved it manfully. I'm an ultra runner after all, have I mentioned that?
Tomorrow though, I think we both need an easy day and that means keeping the mileage down to maybe 35 ish as we'll be getting into the Alps very soon now.
Anyway, back to the moment in hand we easily found a reasonable hotel in Novara and after getting sorted out we went for an explore. It's a really nice little place but as we were to find out it has very few eating places. Whats worse is it would seem we've picked the week where so many places are closed down as the owners have swanned off on holiday. Now look, we're the only ones allowed to do the swanning. After much searching though we did find a little back street restaurant that served us very nicely indeed with some delicious pasta meals.

Wednesday 21st August

37 mile  Novara - Varese
  Well today's breakfast was another rather disappointing affair. So far in Italy the hoteliers have all been rather mean with their offerings at breakfast and we left feeling a little under fed.
A much easier day today though for a few reasons. Firstly the head wind was much less of an issue, it was cooler (only in the high 20Cs) and it was shorter.  Hopefully this will have gone some way to helping us recover although today did turn out to be largely uphill. 
  We did however give ourselves a bit of a scare by descending a big hill then thinking we'd made a mistake as we couldn't find the hotel. A bit of detective work on the Internet soon got us sorted. Was great to get into what turned out to be a really nice hotel. The room was really good. One of those motel style rooms that open at the front so you can park your bike outside.
  Now that we're here though we can wave good bye to any form of flat riding. Tomorrow the Alps begins. I've got absolutely no idea what the terrain will be like from now on, it's not something I normally research. We'll take whatever is thrown at us though. Guess we have little choice :-)
  Interestingly we're sharing our hotel with the Bardiani cycling team. Dinner gave us a chance to look at team hierarchy in action. All the racing guys on one table , team management on another while medics and mechanics occupied a third.
  The riders were unbelievably skinny though, can't see they've eaten much cheese recently. Most of them looked like they'd loose hands down in a fight with a six year old.
  looking forward to proper hills now though