Friday, 24 June 2011

The final episode!

Nous sommes arrivez en Cerbere!

An epic trip from the Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean across southern France over 18 cols, 450 miles and some 35,000 feet of climbing in 6 days has come to a close.

We've had four excellent sunny days, and two cooler ones which was just about right; blistering heat throughout the trip would have been just too much.

Today's run into the coast amounted to around 54 miles and included a minor col not worth mentioning (I have to say I've become somewhat blase now and 'hills' in the UK will never seem the same again)!

Here is the final course profile.

The advertised neutralised zone appeared to be at Tour de France pace and I was off the back of the 'pack' waiting for stragglers fairly swiftly and then alone when it was clear that said back markers wanted to ride by themselves!  Hey ho.  But I really enjoyed my ride in the sunshine watching the scenery morph to a Mediterranean landscape from the more lush temperate flora of the higher Pyrenees.

At the front it was eyeballs out for the last 20 ks and Dave was the first over the 'line' so he now appears a happy bunny - in fact he has just said (we are currently travelling back to Toulouse in the support vehicles) "I'm happy with today's performance"...  I rolled along and collected a lost 'traverser' (Richard from Newcastle apparently) from another group and we rode the last 20 ks or so together following my route card.

The final few ks descend gradually down to the coastal town of Cerbere and are beautiful; long sweeping bends with views across the sea and glimpses of our destination appearing and disappearing.  Quite an experience and a wonderful finish to a truly epic ride.

I do believe life is one long journey so the place I've reached now won't be an end point but when I consider how I've ridden this route, even compared with last year's end to end, never mind the decade of racing before, it's clear to me that I have changed enormously.  And Dave's comment above probably amply highlights the difference between our attitudes now!  He had said he was riding this route for enjoyment but it was clear pretty much from the off that wasn't the only focus.  Hopefully he'll be able to find a balance with his drive to race and what his body can actually tolerate.

Any future adventures for me (hopefully with Mr Grok), and I'm sure there will be some, will be of a very different nature, much more organic and unscheduled where we can just follow the flow and eat and move around more in line with how we have evolved!

Thank you for following the journey ... the final photos ...

Last cafe stop of the trip


Another adventure completed

And the reward!

My faithful companions

Au revoir x

Day 5 updated ...

I didn't realise this hadn't uploaded before I left this morning ... so here is the updated version of yesterday's post for Day 5.

Very tired this evening so just some pictures and I'll update with words in the morning before breakfast!

(Now adding some text ...)

Three Cols, Marmare then Sept Freres and finally the Jau!

The final big Col of the tour
And Scottish weather again!

Gorges de St George on the approach
to Col de Jau - beautiful


Looking down a ravine on the descent of Jau


Yesterday was the final 'big' day taking in two climbs (Marmare long but not too steep, and Jau very long and very challenging in places) and some 80 odd miles.  The weather was mainly overcast again with some drizzle and very cold on both descents.  We arrived in Prades mid afternoon and are now in the Meditterean region, just 50 or so miles to run till we reach the coast.  Only one small Col to negotiate.

Apparently we will ride the majority with a big tail wind and once the sea can be seen the neutralised zone will end and it will be every man for himself to the 'finish line'.  I know Dave is chomping at the bit for that experience.  Yesterday he 'rode' the Jau (as he put it) and was first up it (and seems happier and more satisfied).  I have said all through the trip that he should ride at whatever pace he wanted but he has mainly stayed with me which I know he has found frustrating and would have preferred to have been pushing hard with the groups of guys that are on tour with us.  However, the reality is his metabolism simply can't cope with the heat and long days - something he needs to come to terms with - perhaps a little Taoism wouldn't go amiss - I've discovered since dropping the carbs and regaining my mental health that there are far more important ways of defining yourself other than sporting achievements - in fact non-definition is the key, being present now!  Fortunately his bottom bracket was creaking yesterday and it made him somewhat cautious to push too hard in case it failed, there have been lots of signposts for him to notice along this trip!

Needless to say that Guiseppe and I will enjoy watching the madness from the rear of the group and arrive without having killed ourselves (I hope!).

I'm longing for my own food and my own bed now (and a 16 hour fast!); a week on the road with so little sleep has upset my metabolism to a degree as did the Haribo episode which resulted in an unpleasant high then crash (metaphorical I hasten to add) the following day along with teenage skin outbreaks!

Next stop the Med and a final round up, for now it's breakfast time (if you can call it that!) ... oh for bacon and eggs :-)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Just pictures today ...

Very tired this evening so just some pictures and I'll update with words in the morning before breakfast!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Zen and the art of Col bagging!

By way of a change first up some pictures of the day and then a few thoughts.

Today's course profile
the run in to Col de Port isn't that spiky
the GPS had trouble locking on today

Dave at the top of the hardest climb today

And I made it too some time later LOL!

As you can see, different weather today!

Blogging late tonight and with my feet elevated to aid recovery so apologies if this reads less well than previous reports; it's quite difficult typing upside down!

126 ks today and around 2,100 m of climbing I think (the GPS is not locking on well in some of the valleys so the totals are a bit awry.

The climb of the day was undoubtedly the Col de Portet D'Aspet.  Averaging 10% for some 5 ks it rears up to 14% for a section and two sections of 17% for several hundred meters.  A tough climb but doable and I really enjoyed it ... I've cracked this Col bagging lark I think, more of that anon.

We had a big shift in weather overnight.  The anticipated thunder storm came 'big time' last night and really cleared the air and dropped the temperature significantly which was actually a welcome relief after 3 blazing hot days and many 1,000s of feet climbed.  As you can see by the time we made it up the Col de Port we could easily have been back in Scotland!  

These trips are always fascinating as they throw together some really diverse personalities and it's interesting to see how people cope with the tiredness etc and how they go about tackling such an adventure.

We basically have a couple of sets that have been before and know each other, a pair of married couples and a group of middle-aged guys plus a lone Australian who has flown over just to do this trip!  Then there is Dave and I.  We all seem to rub along OK although some are handling the fatigue better than others!

So, what's the secret to Col bagging, well for me it's going with the flow, finding the moment in the present and not looking too far ahead, if you accept the mountain and don't fight it, it does work with you - this is the way of the Tao and I really found my sweet spot again just being in the moment.  So my secret, when you start the climb you select your easiest gear and ride as slowly as possible, this allows you to keep your heart rate as low as possible and gives you a chance to take in the scenery.  As the gradient increases you apply more pressure to the cadence but keeping at the minimum effort required for forward motion!

Today lots of the guys came past me on the Col de Portet D'Aspet, huffing and puffing and fighting with their bikes as the tried to 'beat' the mountain.  At the top some were in bits just as they had been on the Tourmalet when I  passed at least half of them with my different approach.  I arrive feeling really pleased with my achievement, having noticed the wild flowers and views on my way up and ready to tackle the next 100 miles, they on the other hand are dripping in sweat and have burned a not inconsiderable number of matches for the day (and once you have burned all your supply it's goodnight Vienna as many found on the Tourmalet).

I was thinking about this aspect as each one passed by and it occurred to me it's about acceptance.  I no longer feel the need to push myself like that, I have nothing to prove, I bagged the Col just as they did, does it matter how fast I got up there - some would say I got better value for money as I was riding it for longer!  And bear in mind these guys are riding super lightweight frames, some weighing half what my steel beauty does!

Anyhow, it's now very late and I must sleep and explain Haribo's revenge in the next post.  Tomorrow is the last big day before Friday's spin down to the coast and the end of this adventure.  

Cavegirl has left the blogosphere!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A 'recovery' day!

Day three and more blue skies and sunshine, although more cloudy than the days before and as I blog it has clouded over and I can hear thunder rumbling around; we are due a thunder storm, fortunately we arrived here in the dry - here being the base HQ of the touring company - Pyrenees Multisport - a husband and wife team (with not a little tension between them) which is making for something of an uncomfortable time especially as we have had navigation problems (no fault of our own which has caused 'issues' and left us feeling frustrated with the system in general but c'est la vie I guess - I have been trying to implement my Taoist thoughts but finding it harder the shorter on sleep I become - I guess I'm only human LOL!).

After the elation of the Tourmalet I'm tired today, yesterday really was an epic ... this morning it was straight up the Col D'Aspin followed not long after by the Col de Peyresourde, both relatively straightforward climbs (by Pyrenean standards anyway - climbing for 10 miles at 7% is pretty standard around these parts - I can't think of anywhere in the UK with anything that approaches this!).  I consciously kept my heart rate down today (138 average and 156 max) and Dave has been doing the same in the hope of avoiding a repetition of his cramping episodes of yesterday - he seems to be OK so I daresay he'll be riding the Cols harder tomorrow!

I included some pomme frites with my omelette atop the Peyresourde at lunchtime as this kind of riding needs more carbs than I would normally include - there's no way to get up Tourmalet or Marie-Blanque without sitting in the carb-burning zone for hours alas!  Not ideal really being very sensitive now to carb levels but needs must I guess and potatoes aren't particularly unPrimal. Yesterday's Haribo rush has certainly made me feel a big dip today.

I certainly won't put my body through this kind of event again, humans are most definitely not evolved for relentless battering - I have no idea how the Tour De France and the pro riders do it - well actually I do - many resort to using drugs - and now I can see why it should be so prevalent; the courses they ride day after day are inhuman.

Anyway some  more pictures and today's course profile.  Hopefully I sleep tonight and feel more positive in the morning!

The first Col of the day bagged ... and with Tourmalet  in the background

Another one bagged!

Descent from the Aspin

Lunch at Col de Peyresourdes

Descending from Peyresourdes

Day 4 holds Cols des Ares, Buret, Portet d'Aspet and Port another 2,000 plus m of climbing and 126 km before arriving in Tarascon-sur-Ariege.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Nothing can prepare you ...

Today was always going to be big, in absolutely every respect.  At 136 km over four iconic Tour cols with just shy of 4,000 m of climbing I was somewhat apprehensive to be honest.

The day dawned incredibly hot and sunny again, fantastic for the views and scenery but not really ideal for a day of so much climbing and many of the guys in the group paid the price, including Dave unfortunately.

We started with a short section to the base of the Col de Marie-Blanque and proceeded to climb, and climb and climb.  4 k from the top when it kicked up to an average 11 - 13% I decided to unclip and enjoy a walk up admiring the views and generally just enjoying being there (there is no way I could ride at 99% of my max heart rate for more than 3 miles!).  Dave powered up ahead and reached the summit half an hour at least I should think before me!

From there we headed to the Col d'Aubisque.  Now this was my kind of climb, the only sections over 10% were very short and within my power range without blowing the heart rate sky high for too long.  I absolutely loved it and when I finally arrived at the large statues of the three bikes there were donkeys and horses wandering around (with foals) so just about the perfect finish for me.  Here was the lunch stop with clear views across to the Tourmalet (apparently very rare).  Unfortunately Dave started to cramp up 2 k from the summit and didn't feel great thereafter,  (in fact he very sensibly called it a day 10 miles from the summit of Tourmalet and rode up in the van).

We descended for a short way off the Aubisque and then climbed again to the Col de Soulor.

The last challenge of the day was the Tourmalet and my what a climb it is ... some 22 ks and kicks up to averaging 7-8% 10 miles out from the summit.  This is not for the faint hearted and in the heat of the afternoon I can honestly say I don't think I've ever been as hot on a bike before, I must have drunk 5 litres of water going up, and I mainlined Haribo sweets - this was certainly not a Grok, Primal or EF activity by a long way and required some bending of the carb intake 'rules'!  LOL!  However, I made it to the top several hours later, and a mighty achievement it felt, although of course tinged with sadness for Dave who on yet another of our cycle adventure was unable to complete a section and the one climb he really wanted to 'tick'.

However, tomorrow is another day.  Hopefully he'll be recovered enough to enjoy the short 92 km hop to the tour guides base at Luscan with just the Cols d'Aspin and Peyresourde to concur.

Some pictures for of the day ... out of order, but it's late!

Col d'Aubisque - my favourite climb ever!

View from Aubisque

Famous Tourmalet summit cafe

Donkey and foal on Aubisque

Iconic statues at Aubisque summit

Marie-Blanque - a lovely walk and
a lot steeper than it appears here LOL!

Tourmalet conquered; Cavegirl, Tigger and Guiseppe!

The Aubisque summit

Long and winding road up to Tourmalet
from the Summit

A fellow Marie-Blanque 'sufferer'!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Navigation Nightmares ...

Today has turned out to be somewhat frustrating.  We hired a 705 Garmin from the tour guides with the six days of riding routes pre-programmed.  We also downloaded their routes onto our 305s (which should have given an arrow to follow - but it didn't really seem to work!) and we had route cards.  We were also briefed yesterday that they would be at every junction ... the 705 wouldn't work from the start so we were down to following the route card which is written in such tiny print you have to stop to work out where you are.  To begin with we stayed as a group but on the first Col we split apart each making their own pace.

At the bottom of the first descent - no one to direct us - so we duly worked out where we were on the card and made the correct decision.  At the first coffee stop they seemed to fix the 705 but that lasted about 15 minutes before the screen went blank again.  As the support vehicles passed us they yelled out directions for the next junctions - and we duly followed what we were told ... right at the next roundabout and the cafe on the left ... well there was no cafe on the left, what they had neglected to mention was turn left then left again and it's on the left ... so 5k later ... hey ho.

Anyhow, sunny and very hot, wind very light and the scenery is staggering, managed to take one or two shots so here they are ...

Ready to roll

Starting point; Hendaye

Dave at the first coffee stop in Espelette

Bikes parked there!

At the top after a long 5% average climb - the Tourmalet is 7.5% and much longer ...

Lunch venue at Helette - the most awesome mushroom omelettes!
Today was the longest in miles of the tour; tomorrow we tackle the iconic Tour (de France) climbs of Marie-Blanc, Aubisque, Solour and then the mighty Tourmalet.  I will be taking it very steadily and riding at my pace - Dave will head off at his own pace so I expect I will be riding completely alone - let's hope navigation is less of an issue.

Today's course profile and stats ... 99 miles and 3,100 m climbing  ... 7 hours 30.