Saturday, 15 October 2016

Missions Accomplished

At least it's less than a year since my previous post, so this update is still topical.

As I mentioned last time, I had some interesting plans for my sixtieth year to heaven, and I'm pleased to report I manaaged to get them all done, and more.

Firstly, the 48 mile round-island walk (Collas Crill Walk as it now is). The friend who planned to accompany me had to pull out but was able to cycle around the island on the day, meeting me at most of the rest/refreshment stops. Jacqui, my wife, also met me at each of the stops from around half way - it does start at, so it would have been asking a lot to catch up with me any earlier!

I completed the walk over two hours faster than last year so I'm recording that as a definite success. Training went pretty well and although I started with a blister on one foot this year it was nothing like as bad as last year. I wore my running shoes this time and was much more comfortable. I also had a high-fat, low-carb diet to keep me going. One way or another I seemed to get it more right this time than last time.

The second walk, in August, was about 16 miles, so much easier. Intermittent drizzle started soon after we started walking and gradually became heavier and more persistent. By the end we were thoroughly soaked but it was worth it for a good cause, and I was greeted at the finish line by a troop of  Star Wars stormtroopers, which was a bonus. I'm wearing the bright orange tee shirt from the event as I write this.

Finally (so far), the big cycling event of the year. In the end we opted for the Pyrenees and my chance to earn the right to wear the Col Du Tourmalet tee shirt that I bought nine years previously. Three of us were able to ride and another friend (the same one who drove around the island) joined us as support driver. I left it too late to order a new bike - it actually arrived on the island on the afternoon before I caught the ferry to St Malo, but I didn't get the email from customs until it was too late. Anyway, by that stage I was better off on my familiar old mountain bike. It got me from Paris to Venice so it would probably survive the Tourmalet...

I met the other two cyclists in St Malo and we loaded their bikes and kit into the car and drove down to Pau on the Thursday, arriving after dark and with zero petrol in the tank and the low fuel light burning brightly for the last 50 miles or more. Fortunately, it lied, and we had enough fumes left to get to a petrol station next morning.

Just the legs to worry about, then. JR had plotted two routes for Friday to get us to Luz St Sauveur, at the foot of the Tourmalet, for the big ride on Saturday. A short one that included a "smaller" col, or a longer one that didn't. Naturally, we opted for the Col. The Col de Soulor, in fact. Now, the Soulor may not be as high as the Tourmalet, or as long (12km versus 19km), but it starts lower and is steeper. It averages nine percent over those 12km, so it was quite a challenge. What also made it harder was the fact that our support driver had had a "mechanical" and was stuck somewhere in the middle of France. That meant we had to carry enough kit for an overnight stop and hope he would catch up with us at Luz. So, for a day at least, we were unsupported - just like Paris to Venice but on a smaller scale.

Despite the pain and the increasingly slow progress, we all reached the top, just as the weather closed in. After a fortifying hot chocolate and chocolate waffles (yep), we ventured out into the rain and began the long descent to Luz. It wasn't all downhill and when it wasn't I definitely knew about it. The last few kilometres were a struggle and I was seriouly doubting my ability to do the big climb next day by the time we struggled up the last little hill to the delightful Hotel Ardiden. We had ridden about 58 miles, so not far short of 100 km. 

I was very pleased to know that Richard had arrived already, in a loan car, so we would have support tomorrow. That, and a very good meal (and a drink or two) improved my mood no end.

And Le Col Du Tourmalet?  Actually, it was easier than I expected. As in, it was doable, even by me, although, as JR said, it does go on a bit, averaging 7.4% and kicking to 15% or so at the very top. But if I ever needed inspiration on that two and a half hour effort, all I had to do was get my head up and look around me. The Pyrenees are stunning, and every bend opens up a new vista. Frankly, if you're not inspired by that kind of scenery you're probably dead already.

We made a few stops on the way up, to refill water bottles and grab a bite to eat, but we didn't linger. The longer you stop on a climb like that the more it hurts when you start again. 

I'll admit I shed a tear or two when I finally crossed the line at the top of the col. I was tired and emotional in the truest sense!

Then we turned round and went back the way we had come, We stopped for lunch at the deserted ski station, then coasted most of the way back to Luz, where we stopped for a coffee.

Juat another 80km or so to go then, to get us back to Pau. We had a stroke of luck when we found a dedicated cycle path that took us all the way to Lourdes, away from the traffic and an almost constant one percent downhill. It was so smooth and easy that it actually got a bit boring, but it saved us a fair few miles and a lot of time, as well as keeping us off the main road.

Lourdes was interesting, in a tacky kind of way, but the ice cream sundaes we had there were superb. Richard, meanwhile, had driven ahead of us a little way, so we would catch up with him about an hour later. By this time we were on ordinary roads and had left the Pyrenees behind us.

We met Richard and topped up again (water bottles and bellies) and had a short rest, before setting off on the final leg. 

As we headed west, though, the mountains were constantly on our left hand side and we stopped for a few photographs once we got to a quieter stretch. No sooner had we done so than we heard a great commotion approaching from behind. It was some kind of 2CV owners' club, headed for a festival of some kind that we had seen advertised two days before. There were about 30 of the noisy beasts, of all versions and vintages and they certainly made themselves known.

It was easy to keep up with the traffic for the next few kilometres to Nay, after which we retraced our route from the day before, to Pau. It didn't seem possible that it had only been the previous day that we'd set out, but it was.  

Pau seemed bigger and hillier than it had the day before - as places tend to do when you're tired - but we found our way back to the first hotel. My car was still there and we were done, after about 73 miles (117 km) on day two. Just the celebratory meal to sort out. There wasn't much open nearby but the steak house we walked to was really quite nice, even for a veggie like me. I had the fish.  And a few beers.

Next day we split up, with John and JR catching the train north to Paris and the ferry from Caen. Richard and I headed off to Tours, in the Loire valley for a couple of days before we too went our separate ways - he towards Calais, while I headed back to St Malo and home.

How did I train, I hear you ask? Well, for the walks I did much as last year, gradually increasing my distances to about 30 miles, taking in the cliff paths and steps as much as possible. 48.1 miles is still a step up but it went well.

For the Tourmalet, I followed the training plan in my book, as far as possible. It wasn't possible to get as many rides or miles in as I would have liked, especially in the last two weeks, but it was enough. I was able to "convert" my walking fitness to a reasonable level of cycling fitness in about two weeks, then worked on increasing my power and endurance. All those steps and steep roads on the round island walk gave me a good base, I think.