Number 136 Spring 2017
the Long Distance Cyclists’ Association
Contents Tim Wainwright
How to Lose 14lbs in a Fortnight
OCD ramblings in Corsica
Dartmoor Devil 2016
The Transcontinental Race 2016
Pyrenees Traverse 2016
Oh no, not another epic on the Wild Atlantic Way 1,200km 30
Left to right, Tim enjoying a Christmas lunch with Croydon CTC, including Nev Chanin and Mike Stoaling
The Spring Arrivée has been Tim Wainwright's edition since 1996 and should have been this year, 2017. That's 20 years of service to Audax UK. Tim, aged 74, though to look at him you would have thought him younger, died on his bike on March 1st whilst out cycling with a friend. This edition has therefore been put together by Sheila Simpson, David Kennning and Peter Moir, with help from Ged Lennox. Sheila Front cover: Tim, third from front, Cambrian 600 2007. Photo: Francis Cooke Arrivée is the free magazine of Audax United Kingdom, the long distance cyclists’ association which represents the Randonneurs Mondiaux in the UK. AUK membership is open to any person, regardless of club or other affiliation, who is imbued with the spirit of long-distance cycling. Details in the Handbook. MEMBERSHIP: Enquiries: Mike Wigley (AUK Membership Secretary), Higher Grange Farm, Millcroft Lane, Delph OL3 5UX
Application Form: www.aukweb.net/memform.php or Fees: Renewal: £14 or £56 for 5 years (price of 4) New/lapsed members: £19 (inc £5 enrolment fee) or £61 for 5 years (price of 4) Household member: £5 or £20 for 5 years - no enrolment fee for new household members. Life member’s Arrivée: £9 or £45 for 5 years. ARRIVEE Extra Arrivée copies, if available, £3(UK), £4(EEC), £5(non-EEC) from Mike Wigley (address above) Contributions - articles, info, cartoons, photos, all welcome. TO ADVERTISE Advertising Manager: VACANT Rates per issue: ¼ page £75, pro rata to £300 per page. Payment in advance. Businesses must be recommended by a member. We rely on good faith and Arrivee cannot be held responsible for advertisers’ misrepresentations or failure to supply goods or services. Members’ Private Sales, Wants, Event Adverts: free. Views expressed in Arrivée are not necessarily those of the Club. Produced by AUK. Printed & distributed by: VACANT Distribution data from: Mike Wigley and the AUK Membership Team.
SUMMER EDITION CONTRIBUTIONS: To David by 15th June
Our web site: www.aukweb.net To subscribe to an AUK email discussion list, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org Note this group is not monitored by the AUK Board, who should be contacted directly with matters of concern.
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Audax UK Long Distance Cyclists’ Association (Company No. 05920055 (England & Wales) Reg Office: 25 Bluewater Drive, Elborough, Weston-super-Mare BS24 8PF © Arrivée 2017
Board and delegates Chair: Chris Crossland 14 Stanley Street West, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX6 1EF 01422 832 853
Ian Hennessey (South West England & Wales) Director and Permanents secretary: John Ward 34 Avenue Road, Lymington, SO41 9GJ 01590 671205
General Secretary: Graeme Provan Marlborough House, Victoria Road South, Chelmsford CM1 1LN
DIY Regional Representatives: Joe Applegarth (North-East) Andy Clarkson (Yorkshire & East) Julian Dyson (North-West) Martin Foley (Scotland) Tony Hull (South-West England and South Wales) Chris Smith (Midlands, North and Mid-Wales) Paul Stewart (South-East)
Graeme has the following assistant: Les Hereward (Registrar) 20 Webster Close, Oxshott, Surrey, KT22 0SF Finance Director: Paul Salmons 25 Bluewater Drive, Elborough, Weston-Super-Mare BS24 8PF
OCD Delegate: Rod Dalitz , 136 Muir Wood Road, Edinburgh EH14 5HF
Paul has the following Assistant: Nigel Armstrong (Accounts)
Event Services Director & Recorder: Peter Lewis 82 Pine Road, Chandlers Ford, EASTLEIGH, SO53 1JT 07592 018947
Director and Membership secretary: Mike Wigley Higher Grange Farm, Millcroft Lane, Delph OL3 5UX Mike has the following Assistants: Peter Davis (Enrolments) Peter Gawthorne (Renewals) Richard Jennings (Enrolments) Allan Taylor (Renewals) Findlay Watt (Renewals)
Also note FWC (Fixed Wheel Challenge) and Super Fixed Wheel: Richard Phipps, 77 West Farm Avenue, Ashtead, Surrey KT21 2JZ. Brevet card production secretary: Oliver Iles, 49 Upper Belmont Rd, Bishopston, Bristol, BS7 9DG
LRM/ACP correspondent Chris Crossland 14 Stanley Street West, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, HX6 1EF 01422 832 853
Production of Permanent cards is handled by: John Ward 34 Avenue Road, Lymington, SO41 9GJ Validation secretaries: Sue Gatehouse and Keith Harrison 11 Heather Avenue Hellesdon Norwich NR6 6LU
Communications Director Ged Lennox Spring Cottage Harley Wood Nailsworth Gloucestershire GL6 0LB
Systems Manager (www.aukweb.net): Francis Cooke
Publications managers: Winter Arrivée Editor:
Spring Arrivée Editor:
Summer Arrivée Editor: David Kennning Little Orchard, Pean Hill, Whitstable CT5 3BQ 07734 815133 or 01227 471448
Assistants: Pete Coates, Matt Haigh, Terry Kay AAA Secretary Oliver Iles
RRTY Award Secretary Caroline Fenton AUK Forum administrator: Martin Foley
Autumn Arrivée Editor: Peter Moir 2 Peel Close, Ducklington, Witney, Oxfordshire, OX29 7YB 01993 704913 email@example.com Director and Calendar events secretary: Martin Foley 78 Denholm Road Musselburgh East Lothian EH21 6TU
Assistants: Peter Lewis, Les Hereward (Moderators) Directors Without Portfolio: Chris Boulton 15 Adel Towers Close, Leeds LS16 8ES John Sabine 107 Victoria Way, London SE7 7NU
Regional Events Delegates Nigel Hall (Scotland & Northern England) Geoffrey Cleaver (Midlands & Eastern England) Pat Hurt (South East England) Patron: vacant. President d’Honneur: Sheila Simpson. Vice Presidents: Peter Coulson, Peter Hansen, Mick Latimer, Pam Pilbeam
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Tim Wainwright 1943 - 2017 Tim seen here as AUK official photographer for the 2013 London-Edinburgh-London. Photo : Ivo Miesen I moved next door to Tim and Pauline 17 years ago. I always used to smile when I went out on a Sunday morning and would wave them off on their bike. Only to come home at lunchtime to find they hadbeen to Hastings and back! I would look out of my window and watch Tim in all kinds of weathers go out same days, same time each week. Tim helped and encouraged me to get my first bike and as always keen to come and support me, camera in hand in any event I had entered. I can clearly remember being invited out with Tim and Chris one day to try a new route, (all the hills in Surrey I thought at the time ) and coming home to lie exhausted on my kitchen floor. I particularly loved his route to Lullingstone on which he would invite me to join him and his friends. Tim was a tremendous source of inspiration whilst I was planning my trip to Africa. He sent me the most encouraging emails throughout my trip. He clearly loved his journey through Europe with Pauline on a tandem some 30 years ago and he shared these words with me: 'travelling slowly on a bike, meeting local people, restores faith in humanity and made us realise that humans are the same everywhere, with their warmth, hopes and desires.' I shall greatly miss Tim, but he will remain in my thoughts as I push forward with my bike. Lesley Wilkinson I first met Tim and Pauline in 1988 when I moved to the south east and joined a Croydon CTC clubrun. I think Tim must have started riding Audax events at about that time as I remember discussing Dorset Coast and some other well known randonées with him. Tim certainly caught the Audax bug and his rides included at least one, and I think two, Great Triangles - Dover, Land’s End, John o’Groats, Dover. Tim also took part in at least one Semaine Federale with Pauline, in Mer. Tim, together with Pauline, also organised many Audax events, notably the rather challenging Battle and Back 200k. As Tim and Pauline were both vegetarians, their catering kept with that ethos and was some of the best provided on any event. 4
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Apart from cycling, Tim’s enthusiasms were for photography and for his garden. We’ve enjoyed the many photos in Arrivée that Tim has taken on Audax events both local and national. It was always a great pleasure to see Tim, camera in hand, at some ‘scenic’ viewpoint (ie at the steepest hill he could find) on an audax ride with a cheery smile and a word of encouragement (‘this is what you came for…’) as he captured the grimace for posterity. Tim was one of those calm people who never seemed to get flusered, who never seemed to age much or to change and who gave selflessly of his time to Audax and his cycling colleagues. It was all too easy to think that he would be around for ever. He was a great friend and companion and he is a huge loss to our world and particularly to Pauline, long before his time. Mike Stoaling As Mike Stoaling has already mentioned Tim was a very affableperson without a bad word for anyone and always seemed to look on the bright side of life.He joined the Croydon CTC section just before Mike Stoaling I think and was one of a small group including Chris Burns and Stuart Millington who rode every Sunday in most weathers. These rides were made all the more enjoyable as we were all pretty well matched in both temperament as well as ability. Tim's forte was always his steady pace. As Audax was taking off the club rides during summer were generally replaced by audax events with Tim riding the longer 400k and 600k distances along with several PBP successes. The original 1986 Tour of Three Counties, which Tim rode, was extended to 150k and for the final two years of my organisation to 200k - to Battle and back. According to my memory, Tim rode all of these. Tim took over the running of this event in 1994 when I inherited Nevill'e Dieppe Raid. Tim then went on to make the Battle and back audax event his own. Over the past few years I had only unfortunately met up with him at Christmas lunches. A great chap who will be very much missed. Paul Coan www.aukweb.net
Roland Masset Hi Sheila and cycling friends, As you may know from Audax cycling events, I have cycled with Tim for many years and we've shared many happy times together. In 2011 Tim and I photographed the Paris-Brest-Paris in France for Arrivee magazine. In 2013 to my surprise, when I rode LondonEdinburgh-London, Tim drove his car on his own all the way to Edinburgh to photograph the event. As the riders cycled past, Tim would cheer words of encouragement to them as he took photos. I was very surprised in the next issue, Tim kindly put a photo of me on the cover of the Arrivee magazine cycling over Yad Moss. Tim cycled the Sicily non-stop 1000km ride with me in 2004 and we also cycled in Majorca and Italy training camps, as well as countless Audax cycling events. Tim was always good company and had many cycling friends. I particularly remember when riding through the night on long AUK rides, when looking at the route sheet if Tim realised the next control stop was a 24-hour petrol station he would always joke with me: "I'm looking forward to a can of cold rice pudding and sitting on a bag of coal!" and make me laugh, as we did this many times as there was no other place to stop in the middle of the night. We would always look for bus shelters or places to stop in the night, away from the cold. I particularly remember on a long Audax night-ride, Tim and I were both starting to fall asleep with nowhere to stop - in desperation the only place we could find to take shelter from the cold, rainy night was a small phone box! For the rest of the ride, other cyclists would joke with us: "Was that you and Tim asleep in that phone box together?!" Tim was very considerate and kind to everyone, and was very generous with his time. He would always remember the people he met and had cycled with. I'm pleased to have known Tim. I will always have many happy memories of him. Mark Green Tim approached me at the1995 Audax UK Annual General Meeting and offered to help with Arrivée. I had been working on the magazine for over 10 years, so nearly bit his hand off and he seemed surprised to be offered two of the four issues a year, spring and summer, to produce all on his own from start to finish. He had been a professional typesetter and had already cut his teeth in the amateur world by producing a booklet of short cycling tales for Croydon CTC members in 1993 so, as an experienced AUK cyclist at all levels, he was an ideal addition to what later became the editorial team. In the 16 years from 1988 to 2007 Tim rode at least 16 Super Randonneur series (our records do not show how many SRs are ridden if there is more than one a year). He rode the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200km three times in 1995, 1999 (with his wife, Pauline), 2003 and our own London-Edinburgh-London 1400km, with Pauline, in 1997. Tim's first Arrivée, in spring 1996, was in the original A5 format, with Nev Chanin on the cover, but the following year he produced AUK's first A4 Arrivee and, a year later, the first with an A4 colour photograph on the cover. At first, good quality photographs were often in short supply but Tim, a keen and talented photographer himself, was also instrumental in encouraging others to contribute. The magazine content remained black & white until Tim's full colour edition in spring 2004. On the 1st March this year Tim Wainwright and his friend John Gribble were returning from Tadworth roundabout, on Outwood Lane, Chipstead, where, after a descent, the road turns sharply to the right before straightening, with houses on the left. There was a van parked on the left and Tim collided with this. John was ahead and was unaware that anything had happened until he returned to find some motorists had stopped at the accident, among them a first aider. When the ambulence arrived resuscitation was tried, to no avail. To quote Anne Learmonth, 'Another true gentleman of audax gone too soon.' Tim's loss leaves us all stunned. Our most sincere condolences to his wife, Pauline Wainwright. Sheila Simpson www.aukweb.net
It is sad to report the passing of Roland Masset on 11th February following a short period of illness. Roland was born in North London in 1931, the son of French parents and spent his first few years here, but in 1939 the family moved house to West Surrey to reduce the dangers from the approaching war. As a teenager he and class-mate Les Bowerman reveled in the freedom afforded in the open countryside locally and he developed a love throughout his life of these and similar surroundings. It was Les who persuaded him to join the Charlotteville cycling club in 1952 where he met, fell in love with, and then married his wife of nearly sixty years, Ann, making many excursions awheel together. They stayed in the area to raise their family and remained stalwart members of the Charlotteville, too, a club which has much to thank him for; it may be said the club’s name was likely engraved on his heart, as he had been, at various times, Club Captain, Clothing Manager, Auditor and President from 1990 – 2002. His forte even then, was long distance cycling and his club 12 hr team time trial record has yet to be beaten. So, the world of Audax would have been a natural progession for him and since joining in 1991 his record there is outstanding, having completed 8 SR series between 1991 and 2008 when he last rode an event. In addition he completed the Grande Randonnee of P-B-P three times, the last one being in 2003 and then London-EdinburghLondon in 2005 a month short of his 74th birthday. Other palmares towards being a “proper” Randonneur include packing on a 1,000km event and riding back home through the night. En route he dossed down in a hayfield, though he did later complain it was a bit cold. His ready smile and open, generous nature will be greatly missed; fellow Charlotteville members will no longer benefit from extent of his experience and Ann, their three daughters and many grandchildren will miss his constant patience and love, so our thoughts and sympathies are with them all. Richard Phipps Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
How to Lose 14lbs in a Fortnight Tim Wainwright Text first published in 'Travels on my Bike, Cycle journeys from around the world by members of the Croydon Cyclists's Touring Club'. Produced by Tim Wainwright in 1993. Reproduced by kind permission of Pauline Wainwright Tim in the Peak District in 1996/7. Photos provided by Anne Learmonth
The rain stopped after four hours; I was wet and cold and sitting outside a tea-caravan in a lay-by near Petersfield changing my wet socks for a dry pair. I had already gone off route as my map was in my saddlebag and I couldn't be bothered to get it out in the rain. "Where are you heading for?" asked a truck driver. "I want to be in Exeter tonight," I replied. He looked at me as if I'd just got out of a spaceship. ''You'll never make it," he said. He was right. On through Winchester to Salisbury where I joined the A30. By the time I reached Honiton I decided against cycling another 18 miles and trying to find the youth hostel in the dark. The Little Chef looked inviting so I stopped for an evening meal of tagliatelle. The waitress, spotting "Croydon CTC" on my jersey, told me she used to be in the Sydenham Wheelers in Kent and asked if I knew of them. ''Yes," I replied, "I ride their Reliability Trial every January." Within minutes of leaving the Little Chef I stopped at the first B&B sign I found and was plied with pots of tea and plates of biscuits before I climbed wearily into bed, after 182 miles in the saddle.
Day 2 A late start today, it's 9 am and sunny and mild. I thought I'd ride through Exeter city centre as I knew the ring road would add miles to the day's total; typically the road signs to the centre soon ran out and after riding through a housing estate and round some factories I found myself back on the dreaded ring road. The A30 was like a motorway, with constant coaches, lorries and cars towing caravans roaring past my elbow as I bumped over cats' eyes and drains inside the white line. The noise of the traffic was deafening and, stopping for a coffee at a roadside caravan, I had to shout my order. After putting in my earplugs which I thought I'd only be using in noisy YHAs I kept cycling for most of the day with them in. The A30 had changed since I was last on it, now bypassing all the towns and shops making it very boring. Long uphill drags in 42 6
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x 28 followed by a swift descent for 30 seconds before starting the next climb, mile after mile. I came off the A30 into Launceston to get my brevet card stamped and buy some lunch, but had difficulty finding somewhere with a stamp. My bike was feeling really sluggish (I'm not used to riding with a loaded saddlebag) and in a desperate attempt to make it feel better I replaced the heavy Specialized front tyre with my spare Michelin Hi-Lite but could feel no appreciable difference. As I approached Truro the traffic thinned out and I had a few miles of pleasant cycling. I had been looking forward to cycling in Cornwall; back in the 70s I had lived there for five years, but my enthusiasm was sorely dented. All in all, it was the worst day's cycling I've ever had. The only good thing about the day was reaching Feock on the River Fal and spending the night with friends. After a superb meal and a good chat I finally got to bed at midnight. Only 114 miles today, I'm already behind schedule as I'd planned to reach Land's End tonight.
Day 3 Jeez! I thought yesterday was bad! I got up at 5.30 am to go to Land's End, thinking the round trip back to Feock was about 50 miles; it was 85. There was thick Cornish mist all the way and I arrived at Penzance soaked. After buying some food and taking a photo in the mist of St Michael's Mount I reached Land's End at 9.55 where the visibility was 10 yards. I talked my way out of paying to enter Land's End and got my brevet card stamped in the hotel. Here I picked up a leaflet to get signed at John 0' Groats that would entitle me to a certificate. (At the end of the trip I duly sent it off and received back a letter asking for ÂŁ10 to become a member of their club to get the certificate. I never bothered.) Inside the hotel I met a group of 44 motorcyclists who were starting the End-to- End on vintage bikes, hoping to do about 200 miles per day. Back on the A30 through Hayle, Cambome, Redruth and Truro to my friends' bungalow at Feock where I took a shower, had my lunch and then changed my folding tyre back to
the Specialized Expedition. As I left the sun came out for ten minutes but it didn't last as thick fog was with me all the way to the Devonshire border. The A30 was closed for one section with a detour round the country but when cycling I usually ignore these. Consequently I had five miles of smooth new carriageway all to myself. Another Little Chef and another tagliatelle kept the carbo loading high and I found a friendly farmhouse bed and breakfast at Lewdon where I finished all the biscuits in my room plus three cups of tea. 150 miles today.
Day 4 A 7 am breakfast and on the road at 7.50, back into the fog and the dreaded A30 through Exeter where I finally reached normal roads at last. Passing through Stoke Canon and Cullompton, the sun came out and I changed into shorts and jersey. I took the A38 to Bridgwater and stopped to get my brevet card stamped at St John Street Cycles where Andy Blance works. (Andy organises the Audax Altitude Awards and runs the Quantock Killer Super Grimpeur.) After a quick chat he filled my bidons but I didn't get offered a coffee. I took a photo of the Wellington monument in the distance and made a mental note to look up its history when I arrive home. Had a fairly fast ride in warm sun and arrived in Bristol at 5 pm with sunburnt face and arms. There was a lot of activity here and I realised it's some City Centre Cycling complete with TV crews. As it didn't start until 7 pm I decided to press on to Slimbridge. The rush hour in Bristol was no trouble after cycling through London daily. Slimbridge is a pleasant, purposebuilt Youth Hostel where I was given my own room with a sink. Shame about the noisy school party though. The dining-room overlooks a large pond with ducks and swans from the local wildfowl trust. I made up my own meal here: vegetable soup, wholewheat bread, baked beans on toast, tinned fruit and rice pudding. Two female hostellers sitting at my table got quite www.aukweb.net
envious that I could eat so much. Another hosteller on my table was just off to Kathmandu on a cycling trip so we had an interesting chat discussing the merits of miscellaneous cycling equipment and clothing needed for his journey. 147 miles today.
Day 5 An 8.40 start today in mist which soon cleared, giving a hot, sunny day. My legs felt like lead and refused any sort of speed as I plodded along a fairly flat A38 through Gloucester, Worcester and the A449 to Kidderminster. After getting my card stamped in a garage in Quatt I turned off the main road onto minor roads - magic. Staffordshire reminded me very much of cycling in Essex. I passed through Brewood, a very attractive village, then Albrighton, across Cannock Chase to Rugeley. I could have done with a better map for these lanes but at least my legs were feeling a lot better now. I stopped for an evening meal of jacket potatoes in Uttoxeter where the waitress addressed me as "doocks". The scenery was getting better as I headed north-east in the evening sun to Ashbourne and with a one mile 12% descent I reached Matlock Bath after much climbing. The Heights of Abraham were impressive with many climbers on the sheer rock face. Matlock YH was full of schoolkids which surprised me for a Monday in May. I thought hostels were meant for real travellers. The warden rang ahead to Bakewell then Youlgreave but they too were full so I cycled back in the dusk to Matlock Bath for a £12 B&B after rejecting one for £15 in Matlock. Glad to get in bed as I start the Pennine Way tomorrow. 148 miles today.
Day 6 A 9.15 start followed a breakfast of six Weetabix, scrambled eggs, beans, toast and marmalade. I was really looking forward to the next few days as I planned to follow the Pennine Way (on metalled roads) as close as I could to the walkers' route. Several years earlier I found the route, by Arnold Robinson of Nottingham, in a cycling magazine and decided to incorporate it in my trip, cutting out all the boring main roads up to Scotland. Chatsworth House was looking magnificent in the early morning sun. Through Froggatt, Hathersage and into a headwind over the Snake Pass. It was cold and windy at the top of Holme Moss 524m) and on the descent I turned left, avoiding the Last of the Summer Wine town of Holmfirth. More serious climbing followed out of Meltham, Slaithwaite and Barkisland with exhilarating descents and fantastic scenery. From Hebden Bridge there was a three mile climb to Pecket Well (432m), with a wild descent to Oxenhope and Haworth where I stopped to photograph the steam engines at the Hope Valley Railway. A quick chat with a local to confirm my route www.aukweb.net
and he informed me I was approaching the best views in Yorkshire. Following a 20% climb out of Goose Eye (343m) I had to agree with him as a fantastic panoramic view over Sutton-in-Craven unfolded before me. On through the Aire Valley and Skipton with a lumpy ride through Wharfedale to the Youth Hostel at Linton-in-Craven where I cooked my evening meal. It was my third visit here and I chatted with the warden who is a cycling enthusiast. The weather was a mixture of sun and cloud, fairly cool, just right for cycling, though the head and crosswinds made it hard work at times. A superb route and a fantastic day's cycling; I slept well that night. My average moving speed for the day was down to 10.9 mph and the mileage was 100, making a total so far of 842. Today's ride must have been worth 2AAA points!
Day 7 8.20 start into the sun. Posted my first roll of 36 slides to Fuji from Linton. Today I'll be following one of my favourite roads beside the River Wharfe through Kettlewell and Buckden and over Fleet Moss (589m). It felt just as hard as when I last rode it on tandem and as I rounded the sharp left hand bend at the top I was on the wrong side of the road avoiding the excessive camber, hoping no traffic was coming down. I took elevenses in a cafe in Hawes where a few years ago on a week's cycling holiday I had, by chance, met club-mate Roger Smith who was riding the end of season Fleet Moss 200k. The next section promised some good climbing on roads new to me. The Buttertubs Pass proved a good challenge, followed by Keld and my third major climb of the day up to England's highest pub at Tan Hill (530m). An elderly gent recorded the scene for me on my camera and reminisced about his days in the RAF at Croydon Aerodrome in World War II. The temperature was cool, the roads were traffic-free and the scenery superb; the Pennine Way route was well worth the effort. From Tan Hill it was a terrific descent to Brough with the scenery changing abruptly from high moorland to Cumbrian pastures. There was a four mile climb out of Brough to tea in Middleton-in-Teesdale where I managed to get five cups out of one pot. My brevet card was grudgingly stamped in the post office: "I'm not supposed to use this stamp for anything but Post Office use," he grumbled. It was a scenic route through Teesdale following the river to Langdon Beck with a long climb to 627 metres (England's highest road I believe), the course for the 1992 National Hill Climb. A fantastic 40+ mph descent followed into St John's Chapel. With a clear view down the hill and no side turnings I could let the bike go. Breathtaking! After another climb over Burtree Fell (538m) to Allenheads I was on lovely wooded roads and valleys (much like Kent), through Haydon Bridge to Bellingham YH.
I had never been to a hostel like this before, there was no warden or foodstore. Fortunately I had bought some food in Allendale and I cooked up a huge dish of brown rice, onions, cheese and tomatoes. There was a mother and daughter here on the last leg of their Pennine Way walk plus a group of four others. I washed all my cycling clothes and left them in the drying room with the heater on and went to bed cream crackered. Another superb day's cycling. 118 miles today.
Day 8 I had to find the warden in the village before I left; got to pay and get my brevet card stamped. She lived in her own house in the village and she gave me a ticking off for not signing in last night. Didn't I see her handwritten note on the hostel door? I paid up and quickly got out before she gave me 50 lines! The last 42 miles of the Pennine Way were now in front of me as the sun shone down on the Kielder Forest - the dam goes on for ever, disappearing from sight only to re-emerge later on. I found a Spar shop in Kielder and bought my lunch. It was a bit hilly with a headwind but the road is free of traffic - I hadn't seen a car for hours. Three miles after Kielder village I crossed the border into Scotland and followed the road through Saughtree and after a long climb through Wauchope Forest there followed an easy descent to Bonchester Bridge to finish the Pennine Way at Jedburgh. Stopping at the first cafe I came to I had tea and superb homemade doughnuts which melted in my mouth. A van driver chatted to me about the route ahead to Stirling but I didn't follow his advice. A few more hills then it's a fairly flat road through Galashiels and a picturesque route along the River Tweed to Peebles. It was here that a police motorcycle escort approached and two black limousines without number plates swept past. I think it was the Queen. She waved. It was a hard slog into a headwind to Newbiggin, keeping my speed low. I felt like packing on this stretch as I realised I'm well behind schedule, but on turning north the wind changed direction and I felt good again. Riding through Falkirk I met a Scottish cycletourist on his way to his club-night. He was really enthusiastic about my proposed route and told me some of the highlights on the way, wishing he could do the trip as well. I reached Stirling YH at 9.30, still in shorts with the sun shining. Why are hostels always at the top of a hill? The hostel was decrepit and a large party of French schoolkids had taken over, running riot. The warden was friendly but said the hostel will close soon and hopefully be rebuilt. I bought some food in the store and cooked an evening meal and sat with the French teachers in charge of the kids, but hadn't the courage to practice my elementary French on them. 144 miles today. Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
Day 9 8.10 start without breakfast. In a bakers I bought some sausage-roll shaped doughnuts called "yum-yums" and intended to buy some more substantial food further up the road. I was looking forward to today's route as it's my first time in the Western Highlands. My route will take me through Crianlarich, the Great Glen to Glen Coe, Fort William, Invergary and Glen Shiel out to the West Coast at Stromeferry on Loch Carron. The road is very busy with Bank Holiday traffic, most of it towing a caravan or boat or with a mountain bike strapped on the back. I envisaged the Highlands to be very crowded later in the day. Quite a flat route to Callender, then long, low gradient climbs over the Leny Pass and Rannoch Moor. There had been no shops or cafes for miles and I was getting concerned about the lack of food. I ate my emergency bonk food (a packet of dates) and rode into a caravan park and scrounged a cup of tea from a family in a motor-home. A large fruit cake was tantalising me on the table but I wasn't offered any. Glen Coe was superb with mountains towering around me, but very cold. I had to don longs and Goretex cape for the descent. I finally found some food at a Visitor's Centre but forgot to get my card stamped, so I had to stop again a few miles down the road at another Visitor Centre. At the foot of the descent I then lost more time having to stop to take my extra clothing off. There was a terrific view from the bridge over Loch Leven back up to GlenCoe. Arrived at Fort William at 5 pm after a fast ride up a billiard table-smooth road alongside Loch Linnhe. Why can't all roads be built like this? I showed my ignorance of the Highlands by not realising it was Ben Nevis dominating the skyline on my right. It was a hard uphill ride from Invergary alongside Loch Gary but the sun was shining, the scenery was fantastic and the roads traffic-free what more could I want? About 20 German motorbikes roared past me and I wondered where they were staying that night. Two hours later I saw them camping with one large marquee-sized tent alongside Loch Cluanie. I was now slightly concerned where I was going to stop the night as I hadn't seen any sign of habitation for hours. My hostel handbook showed a hostel about 30 miles away at Shiel Bridge and as the evening was warm and sunny I carried on, arriving at Rattigan YH at 10.30, still in daylight, cream crackered. It was an idyllic setting for a hostel, right on the edge of Loch Duich with mountains running down to the water's edge. I was lucky, I got the last bed, the hostel was full of climbers and walkers up for the Bank Holiday weekend. The warden, like me, was a vegetarian and he had his own vegetable plot and greenhouse outside the back door. Asked where I had cycled from he looked most surprised when I told him Stirling. A 8
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guy standing nearby said in the old days cyclists used to ride from Stirling to Rattigan for a late lunch. They were hard men in those days! I had to gobble down a quick meal of beans and potatoes followed by creamed rice as it was nearly lights out time. I was the last one into bed, getting undressed in the dark. 165 miles today.
Day 10 There was no time for a wash last night as the lights were out. Surprisingly, for a wellappointed hostel, there were no showers here. Going for a wash in the morning I realised I'd lost my soap. All my clothes stink and so did I. Scottish hostels don't do breakfasts or evening meals so I had to make do with some muesli I had with me and left at 8.30 climbing steeply into clouds. I was feeling disheartened as I had to contend with hills, headwind and fog, but as I descended the fog disappeared and I had a good ride round the lochs with plenty of hills thrown in for good measure. I stopped to photograph Scotland's "most photographed castle", Eilean Donan Castle standing offshore in the mist. Once again getting food was a concern as the few food shops I passed were closed but I persuaded a cafe in Loch Carron to make me some rolls to take out. At Tornapress I turned north to Shieldaig, thereby missing the road out to Appledore and the coastal route. Originally I had planned to ride this route over a three week course but circumstances changed and I had to make a few abbreviations to fit it into 16Â˝ days. The Appledore route was to have been one of my highlights over the Bealach na Ba and round the coast to Shieldaig. On the moorland road to Shieldaig I had a good tailwind and met three bikies from Birdwell Wheelers, South Yorks, on tour and stopped for a chat. From Kinlochewe, round Loch Maree to Gairloch I marvelled at the super scenery, surrounded by hills, lochs, woods, gorges and sea. I passed the famous gardens at Inverewe which I had initially planned to take a day off to visit but my shortened schedule prevented this. I'll be back though. On the road to Ullapool, far into the distance, I could see a cyclist so had some incentive to chase. I caught up with him as he crawled up a long hill on his mountain bike laden with huge panniers front and rear; he told me he wasn't camping and was only out for a few days. Why do some cyclists carry so much baggage? It made me feel good with only a single saddlebag. Reaching Ullapool at 9.30 I found the hostel, right on the loch, was full. They offered me a bed on the floor if I couldn't find a B&B, which was a nice touch. They wouldn't volunteer that in England. I found a chip shop and had the biggest bag of chips I'd ever seen (later I saw the same chip shop featured in an episode of Taggart) and found a single room in a vegetarian guest house. Another fine day awheel. 143 miles.
Day 11 This B&B was a real gem of a find. For breakfast I had muesli, fruit juice, a cooked meal, a bowl of stewed fruit, herbal tea, toast and marmalade. There was a four-mile climb out of Ullapool into the mountains and although the sun was shining it was cold riding into the wind. Once again I had to miss the coastal road I had originally planned round "The Mad Little Road", described by Nick Crane as the hilliest road in Britain. Five long climbs in quick succession followed with a beautiful run downhill into Unapool, with a picture postcard setting on the side of a loch where I found a picnic site to myself for lunch. As I got further north the road started to get less hilly and I passed a sign for John Ridgeway's "Adventure Holidays"; I wouldn't mind a fortnight there. Approaching Durness I caught up with a mountain biker with tri-bars and full panniers making steady progress; we rode together for a few miles, chatting. He was doing a world cycling tour, over a period of ten years, stopping off where he could get a job teaching, and then moving on again. Nice for some. When he arrived from his native South Africa he thought he could cycle round Britain in a week, but one year later he's still trying. He was amazed at the different terrain for a small island. The final 15 miles to Durness was fairly flat and fast. At randonneur speed you don't have to visit Cape Wrath if time is tight; it could take a whole day to do the trip if the tide and ferry don't coincide with your arrival. As I didn't want to wait until next day for a ferry I got my card stamped in Durness which was bathed in bright sunlight and with the blue sea and beautiful white sand beaches it looked as good as any Continental beach. The 31 scenic miles to Tongue included some long hills around Loch Eriboll, it was quite frustrating to see cars in the distance on the other side and to realise they were on the same road going in the same direction as me. A fast descent to the bridge over the Kyle of Tongue saw me arrive at the Youth Hostel at 7 pm in time to cook a meal, wash my clothes and relax for a change. The sun was still shining at 11 pm! After a good day's ride in the sun, the tops of my ears were sunburnt and quite painful. A few days later they started to peel. 102 miles today.
Day 12 I left at 8.10 in the mist for the 43 mile ride to Thurso. The route followed the most northerly road along the coast of Britain, but proved to be very disappointing. The first 27 miles were very hilly, then the scenery turned into a boring lunar-like landscape with only a few glimpses of the sea for the next 36 miles to John 0' Groats. Here I met a Londoner on a coach trip who took my photo for me as the "official" photographer at the signpost wasn't there. It was quite cold here, and I sent a few www.aukweb.net
postcards but there's not much to interest me here, it's just a tourist trap with hundreds of visitors and coaches. As I turned south I couldn't believe my luck as the wind which blew me from Durness has gone around and was now blowing me down the east coast. The next 40 miles is very boring scenery after the west coast, but I'd done all the interesting roads I set out to do and now have five days to get to Dover and back to Croydon, approximately 900 miles. There's a nice hill at Berriedale, where I stopped at the top to eat a cheese roll and watch an elderly Ford Capri burn its clutch out trying to climb the hill. It was a cold day and my right calf had started to ache so I stopped at Helmsdale YH for the night. The middle-aged vegetarian warden was a real laid-back character who had lived on a commune in India. We struck up a good relationship and I found he used to live in Croydon a while back. There was no store here, so he gave me half a vegetable pie and some mung bean shoots he had sprouted himself; with rice and cheese, followed by muesli I made up a satisfying meal. The warden told me that when he's out cycle touring he takes a jar and some mung bean seeds and sprouts his own fresh salad in his saddle bag. He likes to have a fresh salad daily! It was a friendly group of hostellers here: one was an 81-year-old male backpacker from Devon touring Britain by bus and train. 121 miles today.
Day 13 A grey and chilly start to the day, I'm wearing gloves and longs. My legs felt really dead so I stopped for elevenses of coffee and carrot cake followed by more coffee and scones. I got going a bit better after that. Ignoring a diversion sign on the A9 thinking it was just road repairs, I found myself at the start of a new bridge over the Dornoch Firth. The foreman adamantly refused to allow me across and got very bolshi, so I retraced back to the A9; it would have saved me about 20 miles. After leaving Bonar Bridge I missed the shortcut over "The Struie" in Easter Ross, adding an extra 12 miles; I should keep an eye on my map. The A9 was now getting really boring: long, long drags over the Black Isle and again after Inverness over the Schold Summit. For the last 50 miles from Inverness the road had recently been resurfaced with coarse granite chippings which caused considerable drag on the tyres. There were no cafes, shops or garages for about 40 miles. My brain was nearly done in. Was I glad when a Little Chef appeared. At 5.15 the sun came out at last and it was warm and sunny all the way to Kingussie youth hostel. (Next day, while buying some food in a small shop, the assistant corrected my pronunciation: it's not Kin-gussie but King-ussie.) For the second successive day my calf became painful after 100 miles giving rise for www.aukweb.net
concern. After a shower at the youth hostel I found a quiet room, laid on my back and elevated my legs on a chair - the next best thing to a massage according to an article in Cycling Weekly. 138 miles today.
Day 14 I was on the road by 8 am and bought rolls, cheese and fruit in town. After passing through Newtonmore I rejoined the A9, back on to the coarse grit surface for another 50 miles. A steady climb to 462 metres took me over the Pass of Drumochter and through Pitlochry to find a cafe at Ballinluig where I stopped for coffee. The sun was shining and I had a good tailwind as I headed towards Perth when I noticed a car stopped at the side of the road. As I approached I saw a female motorist: with a rear wheel puncture and stopped to help her jack the car up and replace the wheel. With my good deed for the day done I entered Perth hoping for a quick ride to Edinburgh. How wrong could I be. Trying to find my way out of Perth was an ordeal, all signposts pointing to motorways and I ended up on a dual carriageway going to Dundee. After jumping over a few barriers I got back to the city centre and found the correct road. From Perth to Edinburgh by road is great if you're in a car - just follow the motorway but on a bike not only is there no direct route but also no signs to Edinburgh either. A map with a scale of 1:400,00 didn't help the situation. I now had a strong headwind as I zigzagged from one road to another following useless signposts, which told me nothing I wanted to know. The first signpost for Edinburgh since I left Perth was on the approach to the Forth Bridge and the metal ramps up to the cycle path were a dog's dinner. I'd like to meet the guy who designed it and make him spend the day riding it. It's now 5.10 pm and very cold. I'm wearing three layers plus a Goretex cape, Tudor longs and gloves; in two days' time it will be June, start of our summer. After crossing the bridge my next decision turned out to be my worst nightmare. Not knowing which was best, to go through Edinburgh city centre or take the ring road, I chose the latter, hoping for a fast ride. The traffic was horrendous, screaming past me at high speed; I was forced to ride in the gutter, trying to avoid cats' eyes. The noise was deafening and once again used my earplugs. After what seemed an eternity on this cursed road a Little Chef appeared and with shattered nerves and feeling totally depressed I stopped for an evening meal and waited for the rush hour traffic to end. Once out of Edinburgh the A9 is a peaceful, undulating road with pleasant scenery and I felt in a good mood again after a two hour stop in the Little Chef. I was heading for Melrose youth hostel and in Galashiels decide to phone ahead to check for bed spaces (only the first time I've done this in 13 days). Just a moment, what's this? Melrose
YH is closed for repairs. I cursed myself for not checking the handbook properly and spent half an hour looking for B&B in Galashiels. As it was still daylight I'd lost track of time: it was 10.30 when I knocked on the guest house door and surprised the landlady with my late arrival. The pain in my calf hadn't recurred. 162 miles today.
Day 15 A cold and misty morning greeted my 8.40 start on the hilly road to Jedburgh. My map showed the A68 as the shortest route south but there were faint alarm bells ringing in my head. A68? Wait a moment, I'm not a member of the infamous A68 Club, exclusive to finishers of the first LondonEdinburghLondon. I could recall Sheila Simpson's article in Arrivee "To EL and Back" and quote: "After a night without sleep, the hills of the A68 seemed magnified and, no matter how carefully these experienced cyclists rode, the climbs drained more than they knew was prudent in the first half of such a marathon ride." Oh well, I'd climbed so many hills in the last fortnight a few more weren't going to worry me now; my map showed only three chevrons to Carterway Heads, about 60 miles away. (I'll have to write to the cartographers at Michelin and tell them they've missed about a dozen!) It was a long climb to 418 metres where I crossed the border at Carter Bar; a freezing fog had descended and it was so cold I stopped to put my overshoes on. At the border I checked my computer, 1,965 miles in total, 982 of them in Scotland. Like an oasis in the desert a tea-caravan appeared out of the fog and I stopped for a hot drink. I must have looked in a bad way as the lady gave me a second cup free as I stood outside looking enviously through the window into the warm interior. For the next 36 miles to Corbridge it was a continuous succession of steep hills with the road ahead constantly disappearing under the brow of the next hill. Turning off the A68 into Corbridge for lunch I found it to be a super Olde Worlde town with a choice of good cafes and a baker's shop selling my favourite Bannock Buns, the first I had found on this trip. Why don't they sell these in the South? they are excellent cycling food. Another 20 hilly miles followed, then approaching Darlington the road levelled out at last. Through Northallerton and into Thirsk where I stopped in a chip shop for meal of jacket potatoes and baked beans. Seeing my Croydon jersey the owner reminisced with me on happy days spent living in Croydon: so much night life there, she said, not like this little town with nothing to do. My brevet card was stamped at 23.30 in an all-night garage in York. The young lady on the till, enquiring where I was going on a bike at such a late hour, gave me a giant Mars bar free. I had now decided to ride through the night as I had about 370 miles to go and 42 hours to the deadline. Stopping for a ten minute doze in a bus shelter was a big ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
mistake as I awoke freezing cold and couldn't stop my teeth chattering for the next few miles. Heading for the main BR station in Doncaster I hoped to find an all-night cafe but was out of luck. A local taxi driver pointed one out to me across the road, full of chain-smoking cabbies -a real greasy spoon but a welcome haven in the middle of the night. My planned route through Gainsborough, Lincoln and Peterborough was now cast aside as I decided to bash down the A1 through the night while it was still traffic free. Longing for a hot drink and a meal I passed many Little Chefs still not open before I found a roadside caravan just opening at about 6 am. They refused payment from me, I must of looked in a bad way.
Day 16 Today was just a blur as I pressed on down the A1, glued to the white line as traffic roared past. I must be crazy. After a good breakfast and a wash and brush-up in the lorry drivers' wash room in the Welcome Break at Newark (or was it Grantham?) I felt fit for the ride to Baldock in Hertfordshire where the Al changes to motorway. It was now 5.10 pm and it's a frantic dash through the hills of Hertfordshire and Essex to catch the ferry at Tilbury. At 8.15 I still have 21 miles to go and I'm flat out on empty dual carriageways trying to get the last ferry at 10 pm. It's a fraught and frustrating ride as darkness closes in as there as no signposts to the ferry, only to Tilbury and I've no idea where the docks are. I arrived at 9.45 to find the ferry leaves at 10.15, having been out of action all day due to mechanical trouble; I'm now relieved at not having arrived earlier. The captain gave me a free fare when I told him I'd just ridden non-stop from Scotland. 396 miles since yesterday morning in Galashiels with an average moving speed of 14 mph.
craving to get into my own bed again. It's sunny but quite cold and I have total power failure after 23 miles and stop to eat two bananas and a Mars bar. I can't believe the hill out of Folkestone to Dover, 14% and long, it feels like climbing Fleet Moss again. The penultimate Brevet Card stamp is at 11.45 am in Dover where a hotel clerk uses his stamp upside down. Leaving Dover I stopped at my last Little Chef for coffee, fudge cake and a Danish pastry. I expect my teeth will rot after all the junk I've eaten on this trip. The A20 to Dover is fairly quiet as a new motorway has taken all the traffic, but the road surface is diabolical, potholes and bumps continually jarring my aching backside. Stopping to examine my rear wheel, which has developed a wobble, I am horrified to find a one inch split in the side of the rim where a spoke has nearly pulled through. Deciding not to try repairs I carry on gently for the final 60 miles with the tyre wearing the paint off the chainstay. Charing, Harrietsham and Maidstone are passed as I start to get onto familiar home territory on the A25 into Sevenoaks. A final climb of Botley Hill and it's a seven mile downhill to home in Sanderstead where Pauline is waiting with a super roast dinner and a bottle of Champagne.
Summary I'd been on the road for 16 days and 12¼ hours, covering 2,474 miles (3,918 km) with only 4 hours' rain on the first morning. The total cost had been £250 and despite eating to the maximum my weight had dropped 14lbs. I'd had no punctures and the only mechanical trouble was the split rim on the last afternoon. I can't say I enjoyed every mile but the Peak District, the Pennine Way, the Borders and the West Coast of Scotland were outstanding, more than compensating for the boring bits in between. Most useful items carried: a teaspoon and a small Tupperware tub which I filled with muesli and orange juice for a satisfying snack.
The last day. Am I glad. Long distance cycling has suddenly become a bit of a chore and I'm
Tim riding Paris-Brest-Paris 2007 10
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Fixed Focus Looking back over the whole of the season just ended, despite it being between the Grande Randonnées of LEL and PBP, the year must be considered a success. For the FWC the number of entrants was significantly up (43) as was the number of successful validations (17) The SFW Challenge, too, showed an increase with 12 cards issued and 7 validated, the lower levels demonstrating the greater challenge and shorter time limit allowed. The Derek Shuttleworth Memorial Trophy has a new champion in Shaun Hargreaves whose total of 292.25 points has previously been exceeded only by Steve Abraham. (He doesn’t now figure in these stats, so I wonder what he’s doing now?...) The female counterpart, similarly, has a new first-season champion in Yvonne King. I am looking forward to more noteworthy exploits from both champions, and no doubt on the mens’ side, Justin is likely to try to regain his top position. The full list of all valid claims received is below in descending points order for the FWC and aphabetical order for the SFW. Fixed Wheel Challenge (Male)
Name Shaun Hargreaves Justin Jones James Skillen Dean Clementson Ivan Cornell Mike Thompson Andrew Preater Malcolm Mitchell Nick Wilkinson Paul Manaseh Tim Pickersgill Tim Rusbridge Peter Hammond Mick Bates Tom Deakins Allen O'Leary Mark Oakden Richard Phipps
292.25 172.00 160.25 106.75 76.00 75.00 74.50 55.00 54.00 44.00 43.25 27.00 25.00 24.00 23.00 18.00 18.00 12.00
FWC (Female - opposite sex)
Name Yvonne King Lindsay Clayton
Super Fixed Wheelers Dean Clementson Ivan Cornell Justin Jones (Hyper) Yvonne King Mark Oakden Allen O'Leary Tim Pickersgill Andrew Preater Tim Rusbridge James Skillen (Hyper) Mike Thompson Pablo Walsingham Nick Wilkinson
The designation “hyper” indicates 4 x 600km rides comprising the series, though this is really for personal satisfaction, as pushing the envelope is the Audax norm and not currently an official award. These listings will be available shortly on the AUK website. Audax UK has a history of celebrating past illuminati, although over time the personalities get forgotten, becoming just names and following a recent enquiry, it seems appropriate to remind fixers especIally in our 40th anniversary year, about the start of the FWC. It was originally the brainchld of Gordon Allen at the start of 1993 and Derek Shuttleworth was one of the early entrants to the challenge. He was an engineer at Rank Xerox and a high-profile afixionado in the Welsh and Welsh borders areas, who also organised and led many CTC events for local DA’s (Member Groups in this week’s terminology.) As if this was not sufficient, he also built cycle frames in a workshop close to his home. Sad to report that very shortly after achieving early retirement from RX, while leading a CTC ride, he was fatally injured in a road accident. The AUK committee at that time accepted a suggestion to purchase a trophy in his memory and this was first awarded – along with an unnamed counterpart for the female sex in 1994. Gordon Allen continued organising the FWC but was forced to pass the job on in 2001 due to ill health. Under various organisers, it has continued to prosper as evidenced by last season’s exploits. Hopefully, the historical details will be of interest and spur Auks on during the current season and beyond. Best wishes to all refusing to freewheel and hopes for a successful and – above all – safe 2017 season. Richard Phipps,
Fixed Gear Challenges Organiser Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
The shortest day OCD ramblings in Corsica
There's a precipitous descent from Lama village, then the road to Pietralba climbs for about two miles and has a million potholes (I exaggerate, but you get my drift) and some gravel strewn sections. Nevertheless, it's a gentle climb with pleasant scenery as the road twists and turns into and out of alternating sunshine and shadow on this fine December morning.
the heat generated by climbing exceeds even the solar gain and I stop to remove a couple of jackets. By chance, I'm right next to an 'arbuste'. The bush is evergreen and so looks quite Christmassy, covered in its red spherical fruits. I spend the next ten minutes eating them- rich in vitamin c, so I'm led to believe, and (of more immediate importance) sweet and tasty.
Here I have to confess to a white lie in the title as it is only the 20th, the day before the shortest day, but Janet and I are making the most of it while the weather holds good. Up through Pietralba village we pass over the main road between Ponte Leccia and L’Ille-Rousse on a bridge.
Further and higher, the surroundings become more alpine and mountain peaks come into view, some with their first scattering of the winter snow. Most of the vegetation is evergreen, but the occasional clutch of deciduous trees in their late autumn colours make a nice contrast in the sunshine. Far on a distant hillside, the village of Aiti looks idyllic lying in the golden silence.
Now here's a situation that raises a question for OCD aficionados. The main road clearly goes over a 400m plus col here, but it's one that we avoid as there is a more attractive alternative. The bridge is a col too, in exactly the same place on the map as the main road col, and some metres vertically above it. I suppose I could dangle a tape measure from the bridge to the tarmac below to determine its height. Is this is the only instance of a bridge over a col like this? After a descent to Ponte Leccia and a short spin up the main road towards Corte, we take a left turn on the small and quiet D39 and start a gradual ascent out of the Golo valley. It is warm and still; the unmistakable smell of goat wafts across my nostrils. Sure enough, round the next corner and there they are – a whole 'troupeau de chèvres' blocking the route. We slow down respectfully: they look so vulnerable; small and elegant with their silky coats and lovely curved horns. And they're trapped on the road by impossible steep and rocky slopes each side. They amble along in front of us, apparently unconcerned. Suddenly the bubble is burst and they scamper into the maquis, scattering small stones as they disappear. Corsican goats obviously have different definitions of 'vulnerable' and 'impossible' to British cyclists (except, perhaps, the LEL and PBP types). As we gain height, the hairpins once again provide alternating sun and shade. Just as I'm beginning to get too hot, I'm in the shade again, and so avoid premature shedding of layers. Eventually, though, 12
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Above a particularly sunny bend and just below Gavignano, there's a fountain where we sit and eat our sandwiches. There are three virgin Marys in the alcove, so I fill my bottle, confident in the superior quality of the water. After Gavignano, we pass through the charming hamlet of Castineta, offset by the snowy mountains viewed through the bare branches of a sweet chestnut tree. Soon we're in Morosaglia, at 801m the highest point of the route and surprisingly easily achieved. Unfortunately it's not a col. Then comes the descent back to Ponte Leccia via the Bocca a Serna, the only claimable col of the circuit at 696m (though I am still wondering about that bridge...). My literary ability is not sufficient to do justice to this long sweeping sunlit descent. How many big mountains can you fit into an island less than half the size of Wales? Ponte Leccia is an unprepossessing town (though a good centre for cycling), but I arrive there in an elated state- fuelled by adrenalin and endorphins, or whatever it is that makes you think that you've just had one of the best bike rides ever. I realise that I've done the entire circuit on my big chainring.This is not as impressive as it sounds as it only has 40 teeth and is linked to a 12- 32 cassette. I could have sworn I saw a wisp of smoke from the 32 tooth sprocket when I stopped at the fountain. Later, climbing back to Lama, I go wibbledy-bonk and have to stop for a snack, but that's another story. Paul Harrison www.aukweb.net
Janet at the lunchtime fountain
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Dartmoor Devil 2016 Photos by Graham Brodie Next event: 29 October 2017
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TCR 2016 longest, with 515km on fresh legs, followed by the last full day – in Northern Greece and Turkey – when I rode 351km on very tired legs, much of it in hot sun. My shortest days were day 8, in Croatia, when the Bora wind meant I only managed 169km, of which 5-10km had to be done on foot, and day 4, in the Alps, when my 211km included three and a half big cols.
The Adventure of a Lifetime
It’s not an audax: how does it compare?
The Transcontinental Race 2016 with Frank Proud
On a Friday night at the end of July last year, along with 220 fellow riders, I set off on the Transcontinental Race, from Geraadsbergen in Belgium to Cannakkale in Turkey. It was my longest ride to date and one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences I have had on a bike, taking me out of my comfort zone and forcing me to think many things through afresh. I've already written a day by day account which is on my blog (cyclingthere.wordpress.com). Rather than re-hashing that, and now that time has given me a bit more perspective, I thought I would focus on a few of the main themes and the questions I’ve been asked since the ride.
What is the Transcontinental? The Transcontinental Race is an unsupported cycling event which traverses Europe. Last year, there were about 220 starters – mostly solo riders, but there is also a pairs category. There are only five rules, designed mainly to give everyone a level playing field. This means that drafting or group-riding are not permitted, nor is obtaining any supplies or services not available on equal terms to any other rider. The best illustration of this came from Urs Arnold Kutchera, who I met on the road to Berne, where he lives. His route went close to his house and he met his wife late in the evening when passing through, but he could not sleep in his own bed – as that would have given him an unfair advantage – so ended up spending the night in his local park! 16
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The ban on group riding could potentially make it a lonely ride but, with a couple of hundred others out on the road, I met other riders most days and it was a pleasant surprise when it did happen. As well as passing each other on the road, meetings at cafes, supermarkets and hotels along the way were frequent and, three or four times, I rode side-by-side with someone else for ten minutes to an hour, usually on a climb where there was no question of drafting. Actually, what I found was that the shared experience helped to build a strong sense of camaraderie. Also, riding mostly on my own gave me plenty of space for thinking and for observing and connecting with locals. And I made a lot of phone calls!
In many ways the TCR is like audax, but only more so. There is greater emphasis on selfsufficiency in that you cannot accept help from other riders and there is less (ie zero) support on offer, even in areas like having to design and check your own route between controls. Given it is a race, most, but not all, people are looking to press on rather than staying just ahead of the time limit, but many do that on audaxes too. Perhaps the biggest difference was that its length meant that it could not be ridden on a short-term sleep deficit. While I’ve ridden 40 hours without sleeping on PBP, on the TCR I planned – optimistically as it turned out – to get 5 hours per night. Also the requirement to design your own route added an interesting edge, giving a significant advantage to those who planned better and made me more aware of the region I was traversing than when following another’s pink line, arrows or route sheet.
What was your route? The route, and the intermediate controls change from year to year. In 2016, it went from the well-known Flemish cycling town of Geraardsbergen, to Canekkale on the Asian side of the Dardanelles in Turkey, with four controls. Each control involved a compulsory section which included one or more major climbs. My route comprised the following sections.
One final, important point to make is that, while it is certainly a tough event, it is not an elite event. Mike Hall, the organiser, emphasises that he wants to make it accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. Therefore there were many relatively novice riders with some not having ridden more than 200km beforehand. With a couple of PBPs to my name, I felt like one of the more experienced riders.
How long is it, and how long did it take? My route was about 3,900km in distance with 46,000m of climbing. I finished in 13 days, 10 hours, 28 minutes, which worked out at 291km per day. That put me 34th out of 106 solo finishers. 16 pairs also finished, and 78 abandoned along the way. The official cut-off is to finish in 15 days – in time to make the finishers’ party – which equates to an overall average speed of around 11km/h. The first day – from Belgium, across northern France and up the Loire valley – was my
1. From start at Geraardsbergen, south through France to the first control at Clermont Ferrand in the Massif Central. 2. East, to the second control at Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps, with a compulsory section involving three big passes (the Grosse Scheidegg, Grimselpass and Furkapass). 3. Further east, to the third control, at Alleghe, followed by another big climb: the Passo Giau in the Italian Dolomites - probably the hardest climb in the event with about 10km of climbing at around 10%. www.aukweb.net
TCR 2016 4. South east, across northern Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, to the next control in the Durmitor limestone massif in Montenegro. 5. Further south and east, across Kosovo, Macedonia, northern Greece Turkey, then via a ferry across the Dardanelles, to Canekkale in Asia.
How did you plan it? Like most (but not all) riders, I spent a lot of time planning my route, looking at different options and refining them. This involved many hours of research, poring over maps and using Google Streetview (which doesn’t cover the bit between Croatia and Greece) and Strava Heatmaps, to try to optimise between distance, climbing, road surface, traffic volumes and other factors. I made two routing decisions which helped me significantly. • For the first stage, the direct route was fairly undulating. However, on our honeymoon, my wife and I had cycled to Marseilles, taking the Loire and Allier valleys between Paris and the Massif Central. I therefore knew that, if I routed slightly west from the direct route I could find much flatter terrain. This saved me over 1,000 metres of climbing for just 20km extra distance. • The third stage – from Grindelwald to Passo Giau – was the one that everyone was apprehensive about. Here, the direct routes – which most people did – involved traversing the length of the Alps with a succession of major climbs. Late in my planning I realised that I could take a long detour into northern Italy, riding an extra 130km to cut out 4,000 metres of climbing. Both of these worked well. The first section put me well up the field, and allowed me to revisit some familiar roads. The third helped me to avoid the carnage in the Alps, where a significant number of riders were forced to abandon or rest up with Achilles and knee problems, from the succession of tough climbs. It allowed me to hold my position in the field when I would have expected to have fallen back in the mountains. It also meant that I was able to bounce the Alleghe control at 9:30pm to attack the Giau with (relatively) fresh legs, while many of those who had suffered in the Alps needed to rest. With a big storm coming, this was worth a lot. I also made routing errors, but these were mostly of the minor variety rather than major, strategic blunders. A handful of times I left fast, main roads for what were supposed to be short cuts but which turned out to be dirt tracks or similar. Usually they were easily resolved by backtracking to the main road, with only a small time loss. My biggest route problem was in Macedonia, beyond the range of Google Streetmap, where I discovered there simply isn’t a decent, surfaced non-motorway road from Skopje down towards Greece. Much of the road is fine, but there are gaps so I had to endure a www.aukweb.net
section of crumbling pave heading out of Skopje, then cratered tarmac on a climb and later, a 20km cobbled section which gave me the inevitable pinch puncture.
How did you train and prepare? My intended preparation was pretty much what I do most years - a few audaxes with some time trials to build speed. However I had a disrupted season with an ongoing knee problem, which arose because of a bike fit to try to fix an ongoing neck problem. Knee and neck conspired to prevent me riding TTs, so I didn't do any speed work. They also interrupted my audax programme as, while I had some good rides, there were a few weekends of enforced rest. I managed the knee and neck by having ongoing physio sessions throughout the year, doing weekly yoga sessions - which greatly improved my flexibility - and having a few sports massages. The upshot was that I arrived at the start in Geraardsbergen a lot more flexible, and more pampered, than in recent years, but probably not as fit. Indeed, my knee was still a bit problematic at the start and, for the first day or two, I thought it might end my race prematurely. But it settled down well and didn't cause me any problems. My preparation included a few rides with all my TCR luggage on the bike to get used to how it handled and to test different alternatives out. A bonus from this was that, on a couple of rides, people who had done the TCR before, recognised what I was doing and shared their experiences with me. I also included a couple of long, overnight rides from London to events I’d entered in Wales. These included overnight stops to help me get comfortable with my bivvying setup.
What bike did you use?
• Wheels with deep rims to make them aerodynamic, aluminium braking tracks as there would be long descents, tubeless compatible and with nice hubs •
25mm fast tubeless tyres
• Low gears to get me up hills at the low power levels I expected to be putting out. • Aerobars which would allow also allow me the option to ride on the bar tops • Di2 compatible, so I could have additional shifters on my aerobars and to reduce shifting wear on my hands • A saddle that would work in both an upright and a time trialling position My Hewitt Carbon Audax bike ticked all the boxes apart from Di2. I looked into whether I could get the frame drilled to fit it. I found a carbon frame repair specialist who was up for it, but it was a big job: I’d have to strip the bike and have it out of action for a few weeks. Given that, it seemed easier to get a new one so I bought an ICAN carbon cyclocross frame from a Chinese seller on eBay. I identified the rims I wanted – Kinlin XR31 (31mm wide aluminium rims) – and asked a wheelbuilder (Malcolm Borg at the Cycle Clinic) who stocked them to make me some wheels. Malcolm suggested Dura Ace hubs, which appealed to me, and 18/24 spokes, which I found a bit scary. He was confident that, with stiff rims, they would be fine for my weight, and he was right – the wheels were a pleasure to ride with no issues. Tubeless tyres was more mixed: at least the front one worked well. I got a bad puncture in the rear before I had left Belgium which never sealed properly. Having made a few attempts in vain to get it to re-seal and ridden most of the first 1200km on 30psi, I replaced it for a tubed one. The new tyre subsequently had two punctures, both of which the tubeless one, by then in a bin in Switzerland, would most likely have prevented. Gearing was a compact chainset (34/50) and an 11- 40 cassette. I like low gears and I like them even more when I have been riding for several days, so this gave me what I needed. I used 34/40 a lot more than 50/11.
What did you take? I built up a new bike for the event. I wanted the following: • A carbon frame, because it would save me about 350g in weight over an aluminium one • Eyes to mount proper mudguards and clearance to use them with at least 25mm tyres. Only about 10% of riders used mudguards (with at least one discarding his along the way) and, with only one wet day, it wasn’t so critical. • Rim brakes; lighter and more aero than discs and perfectly good enough for an event of this type
As little as possible. I took the kit I was wearing, a rain jacket, spare pair of shorts (although most people didn’t bother), other shorts to wear for sleeping and a spare pair of socks. By way of tools and spares I had a multitool, plus one spare inner tube + patches. I abandoned the spare Garmin, the chain tool, spoke key and Kevlar spoke to save space just before the start. Sleeping kit was a blue foam mat from eBay, cut in half, an Alpkit bivvy bag and a very light down jacket. I also had a stash of batteries and power banks, and some food rations to get me through a weekend in France – a bag of byreks and a kilo of energy drink powder. Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
TCR 2018 What did you eat? For me, food was not a highlight of the TCR. I saved time by buying food in supermarkets and eating on the go. I usually made two stops per day, one mid-morning and one late-afternoon to stock up for the evening, making use of a second bar bag hanging off my aerobars which was just to carry food. During the entire event I had just two sit down meals, neither with cutlery: at a McDonalds in France on the first Sunday, when options were limited, and at a village pizzeria in Italy. Otherwise, I ate a lot of tuna sandwiches, which were stocked by most supermarkets in Italy and Switzerland. In the former Yugoslav countries, I had a lot of byrek when it was available, and fell back on cream-filled croissants and Twix bars when it was not, with the odd banana.
• In a bus shelter in Croatia, soaking wet in a thunderstorm after searching in vain for the guest house I had booked – probably the most disappointing moment of the whole ride • In a grassy area down a lane off the road in the Tara Gorge in Montenegro • In a bus shelter just past Skopje in Macedonia.
It wasn't a great diet but it worked. I never ran out of energy and never got sick. I don’t normally eat meat but resorted to it twice when there was good food on offer with meat but not an equivalent without: at the pizzeria in Italy and a Bosnian bakery selling byrek. The hardest bit was in rural France, where food can be hard to come by, and where I got mouth ulcers from eating too many abrasive cereal bars and baguettes. Generally, food got better as I went east and the opening hours got longer
Where did you sleep?
I spent four nights in hotels, camped out in my bivvy bag on six nights and largely rode through the other four nights. On the nights that I bivvied, my sites were: • In a campsite near Nevers in France, which I had stayed at before so knew where things were in the dark, • On a large grassy verge just off a minor road in Burgundy • In a layby half-way up the Gotthard Pass in Switzerland. 18
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What were the best bits? I particularly enjoyed getting out of the Alps and down into Italy. The weather in Switzerland was OK but a bit cool and damp for summer. The way most people were going, though the Alps, rain was forecast and a succession of brutal climbs was a certainty. I’d done two big passes on the compulsory section through the night, and found myself cold and tired at 4am in a deserted town. I needed to sleep and I needed to get warm before I could take on my final descent. But there was nowhere open and my camping gear was not adequate for the altitude, where the temperature was about 5 degrees. I realised that the best thing to do was to put on all my layers and ride hard, up the Gotthard Pass, to warm up. Then, when I was warm, stop and immediately jump into my bivvy bag without wasting time on formalities, such as cleaning my teeth, and try to preserve heat so that I could sleep for an hour or two before I got cold. I did exactly that, and got two hours of the most peaceful sleep I can remember. The bonus was waking to see what had been a dark valley bathed in morning sunlight. I then had a 20-minute ride to the top of the pass to warm up again, a long and easy looping descent from the pass in full sun, 50km downhill and into the warmth of an Italian summer then 500km of blissfully flat road!
Montenegro is also extremely pretty. It was a pleasant surprise to bump into AUK member, Greg Melia while going up a climb before the border with Kosovo. Greg kindly turned his bike round and rode back up the hill with me.
What were the hardest bits? The big mountains in the Alps and Dolomites were tough, but I expected them to be, and I’d chosen my gearing to neutralise them. But it was the Bora wind in Croatia that gave me my hardest day ever on a bike, and the gentle climbs and smooth roads of the last night were the toughest mental challenge. The Bora, the local prevailing wind on the Dalmatian coast, picked up near Rijeka the Giau at midnight. Photo: Giovanni Maria Pizzato
My aim was to sleep 5 hours per night. You can get into sleep debt by riding longer but, on a ride of this length, it’s not sustainable and you suffer as a result. I did some of that, mainly as a result of tactical decisions to get the big mountains done when I needed to do them, and in trying to close out the finish.
I also had 1-2 hour naps most days – in parks, quiet fields off the road or on benches – whenever I felt tiredness becoming a problem, often in mid-afternoon.
The other highlight was visiting bits of the former-Yugoslavia that I’d not seen before, in particular Bihac in Bosnia. Croatia had been tough and the towns somewhat austere with much evidence of war in the form of burned out houses. But, as soon as I crossed the border into Bosnia, as night fell, I passed a series of cafes and restaurants with people singing, dancing and having a good time. This continued in every village to Bihac, about an hour away, where the parties were bigger and louder. When I checked into a hotel I asked if it was a special day for people to be enjoying themselves so much: ‘Oh yes’, said the receptionist, ‘It is Saturday night!’
TCR 2018 morning after a thunderstorm. I felt it get hold of the bike a few times, making me slow down and keep a good distance in from the edge of the road. The wind got stronger and bike handling became more difficult. I had to lean significantly to windward and pull the bike towards me – reminding me more of dinghy sailing in Greece the previous month than anything I’d done on a bike. I sought respite at a petrol station and, while devouring a sandwich, checked the weather on my phone: hurricane-force crosswinds gusting from the North-East out to sea. After the stop, the wind got progressively stronger. The traffic also picked up which was problematic, as any passing too close could take away the wind that was holding me up. Given that the edge of the road sometimes had a significant drop-off and that, as the wind gusted, I was prone to moving sideways by a couple of feet before I could regain control, I needed to use a good proportion of the lane. Most of the drivers were considerate – probably many realised what I was dealing with – but the odd one was indignant that I was on ‘their’ side of the white line at the side. I particularly recall the driver of a white car with French plates making a waving signal out of his window as he passed to indicate where he felt I should be. I blasted him with the Ambrosian repeater gun installed in my right aerobar.
After a minute or two, the gust subsided and I was able to leave that corner, crossing to the left hand side of the road where there was more shelter. After walking a few hundred yards, I was even able to remount and ride a bit more. After Senj, my route turned inland. Initially this was just as bad, with me having to walk the first kilometre into a headwind and then, when I had dared to re-mount, getting blown off again while I was on the phone to my wife. But as I climbed, the road became sheltered and the wind subsided to normal levels. My final day was also tough but for different reasons. I bivvied for the last time in a bus www.aukweb.net
shelter just south of Skopje in Macedonia on the Tuesday night and, with 730km to go, my plan was to ride through, hoping I could finish around 36 hours later, on the Thursday night. I recalled doing a similar distance to close out my first PBP, from Carhaix to Paris via Brest, in that time. However the Macedonian roads are not as smooth as those in Brittany and my progress was slowed by long gravel stretches, with an inevitable pinch puncture on a 20km stretch. I also lost an hour when I needed to sleep in mid-afternoon, so it was already evening when I reached Greece. Greece was also tough progress with rougher roads than elsewhere (apart from Macedonia) and more hostile dogs. I grabbed an hour’s rest on a bench in a village on Wednesday night, and was riding again well before sunrise. When the sun rose, the temperatures soon climbed to the high 30s as I made my way across northern Greece, to reach Alexandroupoli as night fell. With 200km still to go, there was no way I could finish that night but, in my tired state, I didn’t fully realise this, and rode hard into the night. But when I kept seeing ghosts walking in front of me at the side of the road, and the red lights on the crash barriers grew in size, I found a bench to rest on. I woke after an hour – at least I woke enough to get up and ride my bike, but not enough to understand where I was and what was going on. I then had the strangest couple of hours I’ve ever experienced on a bike. Still operating partially in a dream, I debated with myself whether I had editorial control over what happened next and, specifically, whether it was necessary to ride the 80-or so km to the finish, or if I could just decide, as if in a dream, to make that bit be over more quickly. At first I was firmly inclined to the latter view. I recall spending quite a bit of time walking,
not because of hills but because there was little point riding if I could make the end be just round the corner. But, to my surprise and disappointment, Canekkale did not suddenly arrive and, slowly over the next couple of hours, it became more and more clear that I had no editorial control whatsoever over the main geographical facts of my story but would have to ride my bike the remaining 70km or so to where Canekkale was. At the finish
The Bora was at its fiercest around the town of Novi Vindolski. I’d already had to walk a few sections – trying to keep, if not my pedals, at least my wheels turning – after having been blown off by a gust. But on one particular corner I was pinned down, unable to walk into the wind or even to stand still in its face. Finding myself being blown backwards towards the edge, all I was able to do was manage my retreat to ensure I was blown against a section of solid wall, rather than over a low crash barrier. I then focused on getting my bike wheels back on the ground – as the wind had picked the bike up like a kite – leaned on it with all my weight to keep it planted, and applied the brakes to help me stand my ground. At this point, a Dutch family in a camper van pulled up to rescue me. In any other situation I would have jumped in but they were shocked when I declined their help.
Climbing in Montenegro. Photo: Greg Melia
Would you do it again? I’d love to, as it was a fabulous experience; not always easy and not always fun, but a great voyage of discovery, both across Europe and inside my own head. The phrase which kept coming to my mind – and still does – was ‘the adventure of a lifetime.’ But I’ve not entered this year as I have another exciting challenge: my wife and I are expecting a baby at the end of May.
What is next? By the time this is published I hope to have completed The Indian Pacific Wheel Race, a similar event across Australia from Perth to Sydney, in March and April. Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
This & That
Ghost Beard It is coldest before the dawn and I am hunch backed Inside my jacket, braced against a recurring shoulder injury, Standing my crank against the rising road That leads up onto the great chalk ridge. Breaths Drop into my toes now. I grunt against cold With the effort. My jacket, a moment before not enough Is now sweating, and my dynamo light dips With my slowing roll against the reality Of the gradient. Rather than striking through the fog My light makes a lesser cocoon, barely picking out Wan grasses that line the road. There is nothing beyond the lifeboat of my presence, the thin line Of being stretches out between low powerlines, The staccato of road markings plucks my wheels and counterpoints the calculation of time and distance I am making to keep myself alert and away from Hallucinations. Still I see things that leap In the fog then fade. That might be a rolling badger Or Batman or a giant dark hand Swinging for me in the gloom. I need To sleep but know I cannot. Stopping Would turn me to ice and while it would dawn soon The warming of the day was hours distant And by then I would be done. And done in Nothing to do but push on, ignore The truculent mental states, treat them like A distant radio. Time to tune out And let the pedals turn themselves. ‘Oh hello!’ Beside me, suddenly, a cheery voice. I jolt in surprise – I had thought My pace was enough that no one would be Sitting on. ‘Hello’ I reply, curt and unwelcoming. My abrupt objection to company on a night like this Might be hard to fathom, but some way back I had decided this leg would be cold and hard And all of the experience would be exclusively mine. Forbearance greed is a sin of the modern adventurer – There is nothing left to be discovered so we must go inwards To find the inhospitable terrain. After ten minutes I realised he was not going away; I sighed and looked t his bike. Cyclists, you will know, often bike watch before They look at the person. You want to know if the rider Is a bore, a chore, or a new friend for life. The truth is never in a marque, but it’s a start . ‘Lovely Mercian’, I say, finding the short phrase Hard to say in my current state of fatigue. ‘This old thing?’ He laughs, a long laugh A very long laugh, so long I wonder how He draws breath. But he is false, the bike looks Brand new, as if the mist had condensed and hardened Into mirror-bright tubes; And everything on his bike Was in silvery twinkle, a hymn to the reflection of light From the crankset to the spokes everything shone As if lit from the inside. An obsessive, I decide One of those who have time to clean bikes and have no life To contrast the joy of riding with. And fixed. Of course he had to be riding a fixed. And in that vein He is wearing wool shorts, white socks, a black and white striped shirt without a jacket. He could be Raphaman But the clothes are old, the shoes have wooden soles 20
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By Allen O’Leary (yacf: alotronic) If the bike is an object of perfection the man himself Was its verb. He is a sleek animal, his body still, his legs lithe and light; He is starlight on a bicycle. And stranger yet than the minimal covering Is the fact he carries nothing else. ‘You don’t Carry much’ I say. ‘No need’, he replies and I detect A faint northern accent softened further with a smudge Of welsh. ‘I never get punctures’ he adds As if this were unremarkable. The pace seems To have crept ever so slightly higher and I gasp Out my next words, ‘No route sheet either?’ and he laughs, again without apparent effort, ‘Oh I’ve done this route enough times, I don’t need one.’ ‘Right’ I manage to spit out, and lower my head for A few seconds, long enough to see the paraphernalia That covers my many geared machine; the disc brakes The GPS and its purple line, the spare lights And bar-bag full of just-in-case sweets and a camera and money and everything a man traveling light Could ever need. I feel dirty, morally overburdened Like a banker confronted by the prospect Of empathy. Again the pace lifts – though he seems Not to pedal faster – and I make myself shift up And placate my legs with an empty promise Of rest and jelly babies. The bubble pulls in As the temperature drops with the gaining height And a wind promised for later sends a chilly slap. The fog tightens again, deepens, climbs in To my lungs and festers there, a sobering wash of Anaesthesia. On my tongue the first metallic tang Of the bonk. I can’t keep this up. My breaths Drop ragged towards the fog that blankets the road Feeding it espressos of spittle and blood. Now Three lengths in front he churns on, seeming to offer His wheel. It can’t be long to the top now, or to dawn, So I look to his back mudguard and stand up. Straining with effort, discounting the hundred Of hills to come, willing myself to keep pace With the blur in the fog, I alloy each muscular spasm With will and pride, and grimly hang on. And he starts to chat now, about old rides, about Multiple 1000s; about twilight Nordic adventures and fixing his frame with cheese squares and sweat; About Mont Ventoux fives times in a day, on a fixed Borrowed from a peasant with a basket full Of lavender, charcuterie and a dozen bottles of Vintage Champagne. Everything to do with riding And nothing to do with a life beyond. Where my life Was about days in an office wanting to taste adventure He was always here, pedalling the countryside beneath him – A man without use or want for the ordinary. What manner Of man was this? He seemed like flesh and yet He was so much part of his bike that his bike Had become him. And vice versa. A mix of natures – A hybrid being at once both elegant and obscene. It was then I formed the notion that he was the man Who kept the world turning, that he was fixed Not only in gear but time and space; that our orb Was driven towards another dawn by his ceaseless toil And that I should be grateful. But yet www.aukweb.net
This & That I hated him. As the first rag of dawn Rubs the East, as the fog loosened into mist And the gradient eased, at this moment I should be buoyed and vital with the new day. In truth I was broken. At the crest my legs Finally refused motion and the rider moved on Picking up speed as the road flattened Still tapping out the same cadence, it seemed he had The perfect gear. As I slowed and he flowed on I noticed one last detail – I could swear the cable Running from his dynamo hub to his ancient But unaccountably bright light was severed. I stopped and unclipped and rested on my bars. My sweat instantly froze, I started to shiver And shake and not just from cold. I crammed my mouth with the carcasses of babies Waiting for the sugar to flare in me. I looked Back down the incline. The mist had gone. It was just a road. I was just a tired rider With a hundred to go. There was nothing unusual About my state, but I found it desolate. My imagination had been pierced by the encounter. Imagination? No, my pride. Knowing I could never Attain the Audax perfection I had just encountered It all felt like an empty exercise, a game Where I was only good on Strava and in forums And in the shallow reaches of my vanity. I clipped in And completed the ride, mostly in silence, barely Muttering a cranky hello to riders I knew well Who wanted to ride with me, or offered to pull Me along on their wheel. I spurned them all, a crisis Doubled with exhaustion wrapped in a foul mood, I couldn’t stop thinking of him. Perfect bike Silky style, endless palmares. The hatred grew Eating my own cadence. It took some time to realise That what was bothering me was not the man But the face. I couldn’t shake the notion That the face was mine. Not merely close, but exact – That the man could have been mistaken for my twin Were it not for one thing. The white beard. Sipping tea at the end of it, registering The concerned looks of riders around me, I realised I was muttering a random string of words That made no sense, nor even to me. One of the Ancien sat beside me then, offered tea-biscuits and subtly examined me as he talked. A wise man, kind and experienced, he asked me About my ride and I told him about the rider. He patiently listened as the words lined up And nodded and smiled and his encouragement Unlocked my mood and let me confess my fear And the morbid detail of his matching visage. ‘Ghost Beard’ the Ancien said, as if he were Talking about spotting a rare animal, a known But seldom seen bird. ‘You have seen Ghost Beard.’ I stopped then, aware the room of twenty was silent And waiting. ‘What is Ghost Beard?’ I ask, feeling That all but I know the answer, that knowing the answer Will somehow change me forever. The Ancien looks Both sad and pleased, like a father welcoming his son To the marvellous complications of manhood. ‘Ghost Beard is you.’ He said simply. ‘It’s you.’ ‘Me?’ I replied, astonished. ‘Ghost Beard is The fantasy you have of yourself as a rider’. www.aukweb.net
Yes, I could see that he was right. I wasn’t sure Whether I would laugh or cry, and I looked to the room For some sign of what I was meant to feel. Relief That I knew who the phantom was, or horror That some rich part of me had been consumed By this ridiculous pursuit and become flesh? ‘But’ I gasped, ‘He was so pleasant, so nice, so perfect… it was horrible.’ I flinched Knowing that he was me to an extreme. ‘That’s the Ghost Beard.’ Said the Ancien A smile playing on his face, ‘It means you are ready.’ ‘Ready for what?’ I asked. ‘Ready to be the rider That you are and not the one you think you should be.’ I was almost ashamed to have taken so many years To see the truth of it. To get better, to enjoy this I needed to move on from the need of perfection. I needed to cast off ideas of there being a right way Or wrong way to ride a bike an unaccountable distance For no good reason. There was no way But my own sweet stagger. I nodded then And with that the room turned back to their biscuits, Discussions of gearing and mileage and what The next ride was. A room full of people Being the riders that they were, not what Someone else told them to be, not blur lines In a fantasy of speed, not victors, not Children dreaming of conquering – just plain adults And me among them suddenly older; and happier.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Corwen Summer Audax Saturday 15th July 2017
The Barmouth Boulevard 204km with 3650m of climbing. A beautiful and challenging ride with glorious scenery. Route includes the Trawsfynydd Mountain road Bwlch y Groes and the Northern Hirnant Pass from Lake Vyrnwy. The Brenig Bach 107km with 1920m of climbing. This classic ride visits some remote and beautiful areas of North Wales. Stunning scenery throughout, excellent café stops. Last 20km all downhill. A wonderful and stimulating day out enjoying one of the best 100km rides in Britain. The Bala Parade 60km with 1000m of climbing. A lovely ride around Lake Bala designed as an introduction to Audax riding. Pub/café stop at south east end of the lake to complement a pleasant morning ride. Go to aukweb.net/events for full details of these excellent value rides. Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
Pyrenees Traverse 2016
Day 1 Elgoibar 3 am and I climbed into Richard’s car. Some breakfast at the airport while we waited filled some time. We retrieved our bikes at Bilbao after the plane had landed slightly early. It seemed an age to rebuild the bits and then once underway sort out all the rattles and rubbings caused by refitted mudguards and saddlebags. Out on the road it was hot so it was good to have a steady ride on the flat. A cycle event was underway. Roads were closed to traffic but they let us ride through. We took a turn which took us up a long climb. At the top there was a little lane which looked inviting so we headed along that. Indeed lanesy riding is the best. At Astebarra a café looked inviting. I opted for lemon beer. Now that was very refreshing so it would have been rude not to have seconds. Stella Radler was the brew. The sandwich went down well too.
We were now into the foothills in the Basque country. Up we climbed to drop away and then another climb. We always kept things steady in the heat. My front tyre decided the heat was too much so a stop was indicated on this next descent. Fixed and repumped we had one last (but the easiest) climb before we descended into the valley for the Hotel. Being a Sunday an evening meal looked to be very scarce. I found a fruit shop and made do with a big fruity dessert. 43 miles and over 5000 feet climbed today.
Day 2 Ezkurra Our first Spanish breakfast was a bit of a strange arrangement. We managed tho’ and headed out of town with my sat nav taking us onto a main road. By the time we had climbed out of the valley the error had been recognised but we were now where we needed to be so that was that. We dropped to Azpieta on an horrendously busy road. Azpieta isn’t much fun either and Richard and I got separated. After a few false exits
and asking in a bar I find the correct road out. What a relief to get on a lovely quiet road even if it goes upward for quite a way. It’s in all of this that my helmet gets lost, falling off the back of the bike after a stop. I only brought it to fend off the Spanish authorities if things got that way. Richard takes a slightly bigger road out of town which turns out to have less climbing on the opposite side of the valley but we meet up at Bidania for lunch. The scenery was now superb with the foothills growing to substantial sized mountains. Ezkurra turned out to be a lovely picturesque village in the mountains. What a great spot to stop at. Quite a bit of climbing today with each climb being ~5 miles. 46 miles and nearly 7000 feet climbed today.
Day 3 St Jean Pied de Port After a small breakfast (do they ever eat in Spain?) we took a lovely cool descent into a bit of a busy transport corridor. It was fairly easy and quick riding but the route was shadowing and even using bits of busy road. Time to just ride. At last the turning came for the Col de Ispeguy. Now the road was quiet and as I rode up the valley I could see the wall I had to ascend looming above me. In the end the col was very nicely graded and it was a joy to ride. At the top the country and the scenery changed. France had more crags and dramatic scenery as well as vultures circling. The Spanish side had been more soft and rural. Oddly the French thought the col was 672 meters while the Spanish thought 690 meters. As I dropped off to St Etienne de Baigorry red and black kites
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were apparent. St Etienne has a lovely old church and bridge and a kingfisher flashed along the river. Time to stop for lunch and the Plat du Jour went down well. Richard had been taking his time (not that I was rushing) so I decided I would drop my saddlebag off at the Hotel in St Jean and take in a loop. The hotel lady was very obliging and I was soon riding up a lovely valley. However two cols were ahead of me. The Col d’Haltza is really just a top whereby a small descent takes one onto the Col de Burdincurutcheta. These two were tough climbs with 11% featuring a lot. I reached a lovely spot just over the summit where a café invited me in for some well-earned hydration. I now headed off on a loop which Madame had indicated only had a little bit of climbing on it. I thought the first little bit was it but then the second bit arrived. Finally the proper little bit appeared and whilst it wasn’t a major col it wasn’t easy either. It was very much worthwhile tho’ as the mountains and the landscapes were huge. When the descent came it was on a poor surface and a narrow road and quite technical and steep. Brake blocks heated up my rims significantly. A rider came the other way “dancing” on the pedals. I wish it was that easy for me. Down in amongst the villages the sign said “Route Barre”. The detour took me up some steep little climbs on lovely lanes. Those extra wee climbs I could have done without. 79 miles and nearly 9500 feet climbed today and I’d been properly introduced to Pyrenean climbing.
Day 4 Montory After my earlier experiences with the puncture in the heat and the very hot rims yesterday I bought a couple of spare inner tubes while I could at the bike shop in St Jean. Richard and I then dodged around some little lanes to bring us onto the valley run and the climb over the Haltza and Burdincurutcheta. If I’d thought ahead I would have chosen a different loop yesterday but no worries it’s all good. The climbs seemed to go more easily this time even with the extra load of the saddlebag. We stopped at the little café again and Madame remembered my order from yesterday so I got my “usual”. Richard had a puncture. It www.aukweb.net
took an age for him to sort it all out and he really hadn’t diagnosed the problem. We headed up the next col as the Burdincurutcheta isn’t the top really. This bit wasn’t too hard and by the time we crested the Col Bagargui we had stunning views over the Pyrenean peaks. The descent was steep and the valley run to Larrau was hot. So ice cream called in Larrau. Not far now along the valley but I took a little diversion by Haux along a lovely quiet lane. There was some climbing but definitely worth the effort. Richard had punctured again on the descent. He blamed his rim tape for the problem. So tomorrow he will detour to Oloron St Marie for a bike shop and new rim tape. That route won’t have any climbing. I’ll stay on route and do some Tour de France famous ones. 43 miles and over 7000 feet of climbing today.
Day 5 Eaux Bonnes Richard headed off for Oloron and a bike shop whilst I headed back towards Larrau. The turn for St Engrace appeared and I found the initial stages of the climb to be quite quick up the valley but after St Engrace the 11% started. The Col de Souscousse was absorbed into the clouds when I got there. Cool for climbing but not so pleasant for descending. Indeed my water proof went on and my brakes were deployed as the mists were clouding my specs. Dropping below the weather things improved and warmed up. At Arrette at the bottom of the valley art work depicting cyclists and bikes were on display. There was a bike shop too. Just a shame that we didn’t know this as Richard could have done the climbing too.
It was lunchtime but I felt the need to just ride so I took a fairly brisk run to turn for the famous Col de Marie Blanc. It starts fairly easily but ramps up steeply over the final kms, first 11%, then 12% and finally 13%. Ouch. Thank goodness it’s not too long. Plenty of riders were descending with their warm kit on. The clouds were down when I got to the top but not as badly as before. I descended into the Ossau valley to take a minor road into Eaux Bonnes. Those last kms were uphill too and some drizzle had begun. The forecast had been for rain. It had turned out better than that. Eaux Bonnes is a spa town at the foot of the Col d’Aubisque. Guess where tomorrow would take us. Richard had his new rim tape fitted and done no climbing at all today. I wonder if he just wanted a day off. 66 miles and nearly 11,000 feet climbed today.
Day 6 Bareges It was straight out of the door and onto the Aubisque. It took at least 3 miles before my legs would answer politely and it wasn’t very quick at all. The gradient wasn’t too bad at 8% but enough of a challenge on unwoken legs. We climbed and climbed through mists with the scenery very much hidden. We began to emerge a bit from the mists near the top where glimpses of high peaks could be snatched. I must do this again on a better day. At the summit is a café which must be visited. It has historical pictures of epic cycling adventures on these slopes. We dropped a little way from the summit to get some sense of the Corniches below cloud level with the Col du Soulor in the distance.
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On Tour The Soulor isn’t too tricky from this side; it’s a sort of bump on the descent really. Descending the Soulor was fun and down in the valley we took the upper route which required a bit more climbing to avoid Argeles-Gazost. Dropping into a quiet valley the sun came through and a café magically appeared. Time for a stop. Richard stuck to the busy valley road while I got off it as soon as I could to take a minor road up on the valley side. We’d both ridden through a stunning gorge before the split. We regrouped (despite my extra climb) magically where I rejoined the main road just outside Luz St Sauveur. By now rain and thunder and lightning had begun. The power went down as we began to climb the Col du Tourmalet. The hotel was some way ahead on the slopes but it was time to be indoors. Seeing soaking cyclists turning up our hosts had a laugh saying they were full. All good fun as we could still see the funny side. 46 miles and over 9000 feet climbed today.
Day 7 Loudenvielle We took an early start this morning after a huge evening meal. It was straight out onto the Tourmalet. I’ve ridden this climb before so had some memories of bits of the road. I spotted where my family had stayed on that previous holiday as we rode through Bareges. At the corner where the Botanical Gardens used to be a big car park and skiing infrastructure now makes something of an eyesore. As I progressed laden by my saddlebag riders would come past, usually not all that much quicker. Then two riders whizzed past at Tour de France pace. Just amazing to see. The views were superb and as I got higher I recognised “Marmot Corner” where my kids had played while I was pretending to be in the Polka Dot jersey all those years ago. It does get steeper nearer the top as it always did and now there is a photographic service near the summit if you wish to buy a personal memento. At the top it’s busy with motor cyclists and other petrol powered folks all vying for photos of the summit sign and the famous cycling statue.
At the bottom St Marie de Campon has a statue commemorating the famous broken forks incident from a very early Tour de France. I headed for the Col d’Aspin which begins fairly easily at first and when a group of Spanish riders came up to me I sat in on a wheel. They seemed happy with that. Then it began to ramp up a bit and I had to let them go. Saddlebag free makes a difference. The Aspin wasn’t too bad at all. It’s never too steep and most of the climbing is over ~3 miles. The Spaniards were at the top and we exchanged grins and thumbs up. The views were amazing away into the valley. Having taken in the views I watched a lass depart for the descent. I followed after a wee while and caught and passed her about halfway down. Neither of us was hanging about as I do like a good descent. At the bottom I stopped to check my route and she appeared to give me the thumbs up on my descending prowess. Takes one to know one I reckon. At Arreau it’s lunchtime but I crack on anyway as it’s getting hot. I take the western leg around the lake at Loudenvielle where a café provides me with some small refreshment and then as I enter Loudenvielle a supermarket provides some lovely fruit and a blood red peach I’ve never come across before. Being early I make a tour of the village and its surroundings until it’s time to check in. 45 miles and over 7000 feet climbed today.
beginning to show signs of autumn. Some lovely colours were to be admired. I stopped at the bottom in Mauleon Barousse where a noisy old Frenchman was holding court in the café. I came in for some Tour de France jesting while I enjoyed my drink. It was a fairly easy run to St Beat where the climb to the Col de Mente begins. It was hot again. I found this one tough in the heat and perhaps because this was my third big col of the day. I got there tho’ in plenty of time for some beer before the obligatory shower and dinner. What a lovely spot this is at the top of a col with the natural world all around. 53 miles and over 10,000 feet of uphill today.
Day 9 Pont De La Taule Just for a change we could start by going downhill this morning. I was expecting it to be quite cold at 4500 feet first thing in the morning but it wasn’t. Even descending in a simple road jersey was comfortable. The Col de Portet d’Aspet comes next and the Fabio Casartelli monument. A lady came over and we had quite a chat (as far as my limited French would go anyway). It seems there is a
Day 8 Col de Mente
The café there provided some expensive coffee and tart too. After much sightseeing and photo opportunities it was time to go. It was great fun descending with my speed exceeding 40 mph at times. Not Tour de France descending pace but the roads aren’t closed for me (that’s my excuse anyway). 24
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Today we began by taking on the Col de Peyresourde. The climb went quite well and the road not too busy. I had a plan to do a diversion while Richard took an easier route. However, I was having so much fun on the descent around the hairpins I dropped too far and had to climb back up to my turn. My route took me up a lovely valley to climb in superb scenery and peace to the Port de Bares. This was a lovely route so I took my time to enjoy it. The descent was narrow on a bumpy and gravelly technical road. So fearless descending was ruled out and my brake blocks got the work out instead. The trees in this part of the mountains were
society who looks after the monument and greets visitors. Eventually I said my goodbyes and took to the climbing. This one isn’t too bad being ~3 miles in length. The descent was quite technical with very tight hairpin bends. On the flattish bit my saddle broke. Aw shucks. I fiddled about and eventually secured it with a cable tie. Essential equipment is cable ties. The long climb to the summit of the Col de Core might be a bit of a mental challenge for some as the summit can be seen from a long way down the valley. By now such mind games were behind me tho’. At the top a German party, van supported, www.aukweb.net
On Tour were taking in the views. I took the opportunity to have a bite to eat and spoke with a couple of the riders whose English was excellent. I dropped off into the oven as it was hot again lower down. At Seix I’d just missed the café lunch time so had to go hungry. There were at least two groups of riders from the UK tho’. I did manage to get some cold mineral water from a Pizza wagon as they were shutting up shop and they pointed me at the fountain to fill my bottles. It wasn’t far then to the Hotel but I had plenty of time in hand so I rode up the dead end but beautiful valley road by Conflens to Salau following the river all the way as it cascaded over boulders amongst the trees. Here I found a bar which offered the chance of some refreshment. Inside hung numerous medals and a Masters World Champion Cyclo Cross jersey. I was in the presence of greatness and my lady host was arranging some wonderful bikes within her stable. The return down the valley was easy and our hosts at the Hotel discussed the European Brown Bear situation in the local hills. It seems the population is doing well despite some opposition from some of the locals. 56 miles and more than 7500 feet climbed today.
Day 10 Tarascon sur Ariege With grey wagtails and dippers on the river outside we completed breakfast and took to the Col de Latrape. It wasn’t a difficult climb it turned out as it wasn’t too long or steep. The descent was narrow and then we were faced with a long haul up the Col d’Agnes. This was followed by a short descent to a mountain lake before a beautiful climb on
Day 11 Axat It was wet from the off today. Richard took to the busy valley road while I headed upwards for the Route des Corniches. It seemed familiar and indeed it was as I’d ridden this road on one of the GV tours not many years ago. Despite the weather it is a lovely road and I did get to view some of the spectacular rocky crags and pillars. Further along the cable cars bring Talc from mines high up on the mountain to the valley for processing. I climbed to the Col de Marmare as I’d done once before and then followed this with the Col de Chioula. Still the rain fell. On the long 10% haul to the Col de Pailheres it was merely misty. Well that’s an improvement. The Pailheres is high 2007 meters and it was cold up there. I put extra clothing on for the descent but not enough it transpired. I was frozen on the way down. Now that climb and descent needs to be done again in better weather. On the descent there were some lovely mountain villages and I found Richard, who had taken the easier route, on the way down. He and I were attempting to take photos but my camera had misted up in the conditions so I got on with attempting to warm up. The route took us lower and lower through some wonderful gorges. Gorges de l’Aube was superb but the Gorges de St-Georges were narrow and very spectacular. Axat lay beyond and it was good to get in to dry out and warm up. 61 miles and more than 10500 feet of climbing today.
Day 12 Perpignan I had a plan to complete the main traverse route which was too much for Richard. His plan was to take the flat and shorter route
Eventually I reached the summit of the Col de Jau where I spoke with a Frenchman who was training to ride a local circuit of 80 km and 2400 meters of ascent. I didn’t say anything about what I’d been achieving, just gave him a lot of encouragement. “Bravo”. The Col de Jau marked a climatic change in the landscape. I’d ridden from the temperate zone into the drier Mediterranean zone. The flora told me so. I dropped off Jau towards Prades but took a higher route to avoid the busy National. Eventually I crossed it with only a short section to ride. Canigou is the mountain which dominates the view now and my route would take me up onto its flanks. The climb was on a fairly steady gradient but I was flagging a bit so when a likely café appeared I made an effort to carry my bike down several flights of steps only to find it closed and so have to carry the bike back up. So I stopped for a picnic using my emergency rations. I was watching my height gain from time to time on the Sat Nav so I was a tad surprised when the descent appeared and I lost 250 feet. That was to get me across a ravine and then I had to regain that height before I could get higher. Such is climbing I suppose. At the top of the Col de Palomeres the Mediterranean lay ahead. It was an easy climb to the Col de Xatard with cork oaks having been harvested of bark showing along the way. Now I dropped down into the vineyards with one vineyard in full harvest mode. I found myself on a superb cycle path until I ran into school coming out time and the path full of mums. Not long now and I was at the hotel. Richard had beaten me to it despite his detour to the Gorge de Galamus, a gorge I remember well from a GV Tour. 81 miles and over 10000 feet of climbing again.
Day 13 Mediterranean Today was an extra day as one had been planned to enable logistical issues to be sorted out. In the event the logistics had proved to be much simpler so I took the opportunity to ride to St Cyprien Plage for a dip in the Med. The ride was fairly uneventful although traffic at the coast could have been lighter and I could have done without the horrid head wind which had sprung up. Nevertheless I got a lovely swim in the sea. Author Unknown
small roads to the Port de Lers. On this summit 3 French riders helped out with the obligatory photo opportunity. It seemed no one was keen to chat tho’. Sometimes it’s nice to be quiet. Descending took me back into the oven so I stopped at Vicdessos for the Plat du Jour and a top up of my bottles. It was then a very easy roll on to Tarascon sur Ariege where I decided it was too hot for much more. It was only 14:30 and the hotel wasn’t open so I spent some time attempting to sort my broken saddle out a bit better. The cable tie had done well so for a more robust fix I replaced it with some garden wire I had “acquired”. The heat was tiring today with only 41 miles but the climbing was 7000 feet. www.aukweb.net
into Perpignan. I’d be taking on a lot of miles and just a bit of climbing. So I headed back up the river through the Gorges de StGeorges to climb out of the gorge. The climb was long and steady and sometimes rather slow. The German group I’d chatted with a few days ago came past and we exchanged cheery hellos. My usual tactic when climbing long climbs is to enjoy the flora and fauna as I progress. I was passing large clumps of autumn crocus, something I usually see in gardens at home as an unusual plant. Here it grows wild. It wasn’t the first time I’d spotted it on this trip but it seemed I’d found a hot spot for it. Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
OCD Manoeuvres in the Dark with Bob Damper Two of the more distinctive aspects of Audax cycling are: (1) riding around the clock and (2) routes that eschew busy main roads and take in the more scenic—and often therefore hillier—highways and byways. So we might well expect that big climbs have occasionally to be undertaken after dark. Those of us who enjoy climbing will usually explain to doubters that our enjoyment is not really masochistic but is based on tangible rewards like the liberating feeling of finding oneself “above the everyday world”, extensive views across open, unspoilt country and (at least for cyclists like me who only very rarely ride fixed wheel in hilly country) fast, exhilarating, effort-less descents. But if the truth be told, few of these claimed rewards are to be had after dark. Whereas our wilder, high places certainly have a special quality at night, when it is comparatively rare to see any form of traffic and it is often possible to gaze up at dark skies and experience a deep sense of isolated communion with nature, views are generally non-existent and simple self-preservation dictates that descents are undertaken at a speed that takes account of dramatically reduced visibility of road conditions and hazards. It can, of course, also be damned cold high up at night! Back in May of last year, I was musing over entering the 2016 National 400 from Biggin near Hartington in the Peak District. Not having looked carefully at the details of the route at that point, there seemed every chance of some big climbs (and corresponding OCD claims) overnight. As it turned out, the night section was mostly limited to pretty flat roads across the Cheshire plain coming back from North Wales, but still this had got me thinking about what I have called (with due apologies to Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys) “OCD Manoeuvres in the Dark”. How many of my own claims, I wondered, were for nighttime ascents and were any of these especially memorable by virtue of it being dark? So I have looked back over my records to discover that very few were in the hours of darkness, just seven in fact. This is few enough that I can tell you a little about all of them in this article without (I hope) boring your Sealskinz socks off.
The pathetic lights I used on Carn yr Arian in 1962 were pretty much like these. The front light on the left is a genuine Ever Ready, but the rear light is actually an Oldham
mountain hostel did not have a phone - it was the early 1960’s after all - so I wasn’t able to call (from a phone box, of course) and explain my situation. It was cold, pitch black and all I had to see by was my truly pathetic Ever Ready front battery light. For the technically-minded, these used a Leclanché (dry-cell) zinc-carbon battery with very poor energy density and (because they had a sort of cardboard-like casing) the disarming habit of all but disintegrating when they got wet. They also had very flimsy spring-metal terminals that made poor contact with the bulb and on-off screw connector on top of the case. To complete the tale of woes, the terminals were only weakly attached to the battery cells (by some sort of glue, as I recall) and were prone to coming detached, resulting in total failure. We thought ourselves great wags in those distant boyhood days and it was our habit to refer whimsically to these pitiful lights as Never Ready, a case of many a true word spoken in jest. Even on this dark night, there was infinitely more illumination from the moon than from my front light. Anyway, I’m pleased to say that I made it to the hostel (just) in time, and lived to climb another day.
24 December 1978, Slochd Pass, Highland, 401 metres: This is a bit of a marginal one as it was dusk for most of the ascent rather than truly dead-of-night black. But night comes early in these far northern parts around the winter equinox and daylight was certainly at a premium when I reached the summit late in the afternoon. It was my Christmas tour (again a solo hostelling trip) and I rode this day from Inverness to Aviemore. As an alternative to Ever Ready, I was using a Miller tyre-driven dynamo. Although a huge step up on dry-cell battery lighting, the Miller relied on spring pressure to hold the dynamo pulley in frictional contact with the tyre side-wall. As such, it not only led to very noticeable drag, it also had the disarming feature of slipping in wet weather. It was mid-winter in Scotland, I was high up in the Cairngorm Mountains, and there was no shortage of slush and snow to stop my dynamo from working consistently.
20 April 1962, Carn yr Arian, Powys, 342 metres: Back in 1962 there was no Powys, and this hill would then have been in the county of Brecon. I wrote about it in my recent “53 Years of CycloClimbing” article (Arrivée vol. 130, pp. 14-16), in which I nominated it as one of my three least enjoyed climbs. I’m sure it would have been a lovely ascent in better circumstances, but I was just 13 years old at the time, on my first ever solo cycle tour, and earlier that day (Good Friday) I had suffered a hub spindle breakage which delayed me for some 8 hours. I was hurrying desperately to get to Ystradfellte hostel (where I had a pre-paid booking) before it closed at 10pm and had no money to pay for alternative accommodation. If memory serves me, this remote 26
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The Slochd Pass is the main A9 road and traffic was quite heavy on this Christmas Eve, so not having reliable lighting after dark was a bit of a concern. In those days, with considerations of weight and financial outlay uppermost, it would not have occurred to us to have a back-up lighting system. After all, this was nearly 40 years ago and there was nothing else available at that time that was really any less problematic. As a postscript, the next day I followed the snow plough over Drumochter Pass for my first and (so far) only Christmas Day OCD claim.
26 August 1987, Roc de Trévézel, Finistère, 349 metres: This climb will, of course, be very familiar to all of you who have ridden PBP as it is the highest point on the route. On the outward journey, I went over the Roc in broad daylight during the late afternoon of Tuesday 25 August and then had a few hours rest at Brest before setting off back to Paris very late in the evening. With a welcome strong tail wind, I reached the top just after midnight. Recollections of the climb are hazy to say the least. I have a vague memory of seeing the lights of Morlaix from the summit, so it ought to have been a very clear night, but against that version of events, I also seem to recall it was cold and very misty on the descent to Huelgoat.
My back-up lighting system for PBP’87 was front and rear Wonderlites, socalled because it was a wonder if you ever got any usable light out of them.
The Sanyo Dynapower bottom-bracket dynamo was my main lighting system for Paris-Brest-Paris in 1987 but proved unreliable.
My main lighting system was a Sanyo Dynapower dynamo that fitted under the bottom bracket. This was a popular choice at the time. It had a large roller held by spring pressure on to the top of the tyre. This was an improvement on earlier dynamos like Miller and Lucifer that relied on a small diameter pulley and tyre side-wall contact, not least because when it was new and working well, the drag was very much less. However, its placement just aft of the bottom bracket meant that all kinds of muck got thrown up onto it from the road. Consequently, the bearings quickly got shot, resulting in slippage, vibration and other undesirable effects. My back-up system - sadly needed when the Sanyo started to slip in pre-dawn rain - consisted of the so-called Wonderlites powered by alkaline batteries. Although they used the same zinc-carbon chemistry as the bad old dry-cell batteries, they did have much better energy density and (by virtue of a light metal casing) were a lot more robust. Still, I think they were called Wonderlites because it was a wonder if you got any decent light out of them. If memory serves me, they were of French manufacture, but there was an American firm selling copies. The lights themselves were desperately flimsy things, being made out of some lightweight plastic, with a plastic bracket featuring a kind of thumbwheel and clamp that allowed you to fit the lights quickly and easily to handlebars, seat stay, or other convenient fixing point on the bike. That was the theory anyway.
9 April 1995, Pengenffordd, Powys, 327 metres: Sometimes known as the Rhiangoll Pass after the little river that rises at Pengenffordd and drains to the south into the Usk, this is the summit of the scenic A479 across the Black Mountains between Talgarth and Crickhowell. On this occasion, I climbed it in the twilight www.aukweb.net
Wonderlites used an MN1203 alkaline battery.
from Talgarth on the late Nik Peregrine’s Welsh Borders 300. I suffered dreadfully on the entire second half of this 300 from the after-effects of flu in the previous week, and really should not have been riding at all. As I say, it was twilight rather than really dark, but as I had lights on for the full ascent, I reckon it counts as one of my manoeuvres. I have an abiding memory of passing the pub at the summit; it looked so cheery and welcoming with lights ablaze, people chatting happily in the bar, and a sign outside saying something tempting like “Fine Ales & Wines - Accommodation”. And I still had 60-odd kilometres to do back to Chepstow. What an effort it took to ignore the lure of this remote mountain hostelry and keep turning the cranks! Still, I did subsequently stay a very pleasant night here on a tour of Wales in August 2003. Back in those days, the pub was sensibly named the Castle Inn (after the nearby Castell Dinas, the highest castle in England and Wales) but I noticed on this year’s Bryan Chapman Memorial 600 that it is now called the Dragon’s Back. I do hate it when long-standing and meaningful pub names get changed on some commercial whim without a care for history, heritage or tradition. Although I had by this time started to go away from using the Sanyo dynamo in favour of rechargeable batteries, and my usual Audax bike of that period (an F. W. Evans) was so equipped, for some reason I did this ride on my 1958 Gillott, lit by an aged Sanyo Dynapower very much on its last legs. I think my reasoning was that I had paid good money for the thing, and I was damn well going to use it until such time as it expired (which it did soon enough afterwards on that year’s National 400). Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
21 May 1995, Llanberis Pass, Gwynedd, 359 metres: This was ridden in the dead of night on the way back from Menai Bridge to Dolgellau on the Bryan Chapman 600. It was a truly dreadful ascent. I was behind schedule, cold, tired and jet-lagged, having flown back from Los Angeles on the previous Thursday night, got my bike ready, packed and travelled to Wales on the Friday, and then got up pre-dawn Saturday to start the ride. Not the best preparation for a 600. Although the climb was horrid, the subsequent descent to Beddgelert was spectacularly scenic - also spectacularly cold - as dawn was breaking on what turned out to be a beautiful May day. I did not see another rider at all between Llanberis and Dolgellau, I presume because everyone except me had the good sense to grab some shuteye at either the Menai Bridge or Dolgellau control around the witching hour. The ’95 BCM remains the one and only Audax that I have ever started and not completed in time. In more recent times, the BCM route has been revised so that Llanberis Pass is now climbed in daylight on the way out to Menai Bridge. I guess this counts as an improvement. As for lighting, by the mid-90’s, rechargeable batteries and halogen bulbs had pretty much revolutionised night-time cycling. On my Evans, I had ditched the Sanyo Dynapower for a “Swinford” system designed and marketed by Oxfordshire cyclist John Bridgeman, assisted by a Colin someone. (Neither John nor I can remember his full name.) John had it made by a company in Swinford, near Eynsham in Oxfordshire, hence the name. It was based on a rechargeable 6V sealed lead-acid battery driving proprietary Union front and rear lights. One drawback was that the battery was pretty bulky and weighed almost 1kg. As the burn time was something like 3-4 hours, I found it prudent on a long over-night Audax to carry two of them in my saddlebag, which was a bit of a burden.
light was lost on Paul Whitehead’s Ebble & Wylie Valley 200: I unloaded the contents of my saddlebag into long roadside grass to get at a spare tube when I suffered a puncture and must have left it behind in the grass when I repacked.) My back-up was simply a duplicate of this same set-up (so I still have one that I can use). Reaching the summit at about 7pm, I was captivated to see Llyn Brân sparkling in the clear moonlight. Shortly after passing this little lake, I turned left to begin the wonderful (and welcome) descent to Llyn Brenig, and thence to journey’s end at Corwen, with the lights of the remote Sportsman’s Arms prominent on the moor to the west. This is the highest pub in Wales. One day, I hope to sample their hospitality (and beer). Vicky promotes this event by telling everyone “The last 20km are all downhill”, and she is right! This must be the finest end to any Audax anywhere, even in the dark.
15 October 2016, Llyn Bran, 448 metres: The previous year’s Clwydian 200 had proved an excellent opportunity to get some late OCD claims in, and I had enjoyed it so much that I was determined to do it again in 2016. I was marginally faster this time so it was not quite as dark for the ascent, and early on in the climb I could even see clearly the mountains of the Snowdon range off to the west, with the unmistakable outline of Tryfan especially prominent. Nevertheless, I lit up at exactly the same spot near Hafod Dafyyd and it was pretty dark at the summit, so I feel this qualifies as a manoeuvre. Once again, the lights of the Sportsman’s Arms attracted my attention across the moor, and once again I ignored its attractions and pushed on. For various reasons, I was riding my 1958 Gillott, not my usual Audax mount these days and lacking a dynohub. So I relied for illumination on a Busch and Müller IXON USB rechargeable front light giving out some 30 lux. Although this is way below the 70 lux output of the B&M Luxos IQ headlight fitted to my usual (Thorn) Audax bike, it was adequate for the last few miles of a 200. My back-up was a cheap and cheerful Electron Pod with Cree LED, which set me back just £5.99 from SJS Cycles. This is nonrechargeable, using a couple of CR2032 button-cell lithium batteries with a claimed 30 hours burn time. But don’t expect to be able to change the batteries when they expire. This requires undoing four tiny (1.5 mm) Allen screws that are so soft that the recess in the screw head rounds off when you apply any force with an Allen key. They are a throwaway item. Well, that’s all folks, at least for now. With winter well and truly upon us as I write, thoughts turn to next summer’s exploits, when I hope to add to this little list of OCD manoeuvres in the dark. The 2017 London-Edinburgh-London certainly offers promise in this regard, but it remains to be seen if any of the big climbs, like Yad Moss and the Devil’s Beef Tub, coincide with the hours of darkness. It all depends, of course, on the start time I get given and my speed on the road (or lack of it). I will at least get two shots at it, on the way out and on the way back, if I survive that far.
As for a back-up, we were now firmly in the era of cheap, efficient, reliable, light, compact and, therefore, ubiquitous LED rear lights, exemplified by the excellent CatEye products, so there was really no longer any reason to worry about adequate rear lighting. However, cheap and efficient white-light emitting diodes, suitable for front illumination, were still a few years in the future.
17 October 2015, Llyn Brân, 448 metres: High up on the Denbighshire moors, Llyn Brân is a magical spot, especially after dark. It was a long, steady climb up from the beach café control at sea level at Pensarn to this moorland summit on Vicky Payne’s Clwydian 200, all of 15 miles in fact, with just a couple of short descents (into Llanfair Talhaiarn and then into Llansannan) for relief. I stopped to light up about 1½ miles (and 100m) short of the summit, at the cattle grid near Hafod Dafyyd. Although I had recently fitted my heavy-duty Dawes Galaxy with a Son dynohub, and very pleased with it I was too, I was on this occasion riding my Thorn Audax, and using a Cree LED front light with rechargeable lithium-ion battery (residing in a small top-tube frame bag), producing truly spectacular illumination for such a lightweight and low-cost system. (Sadly, this favourite little 28
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Above, on the road at Cressing, below left, arriving at the finish control, below right, the presentation
Rode the Knights Templars and Cross 105km ride on 4th February. It was brilliantly organised by Grant Huggins and a wonderful welcoming committee from the ACME (Audax Club Mid Essex) when he arrived in 8H40 â€“ just 5 mins inside the time limit. A good effort for an 8 year old!
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Oh no, not another epic on the Wild Atlantic Way 1,200km from George Hanna
The Ring of Kerry and Sleeping Giant
I have been cycling in Ireland each year since leaving the whorl of work to spend more time with my bicycles. Hot on the heels of the visit of the Giro d’Italia to my home town in Co. Antrim in 2014 came Mille Failte1200k - billed by Audax Ireland as “Ireland’s longest and friendliest bike ride”. Due to a final work-related diary clash, I couldn’t ride the event in longest day week. However, I did tour round most of the route with Peter Marshall, with no cards or paperwork to encumber us. We travelled by train/ferry/train via Holyhead to Dublin and Cork – relatively painless, even allowing for heavy Dublin traffic – and booked accommodation in advance. Instead of following the 1200k course for 3 hard days of 360k, 350k, 350k then 140k, we decided our exact distances en route by cutting a peninsula or two, when the weather/riding proved too gnarly for our liking. Although we had lights with us, we had no intention of using them. Lowlights of the trip were visiting Clonmel – home of Magners ‘cider’ – an area seemingly devoid of apple trees; and the Kerry dark sky reserve when it was cloudy.
Highlights were the spectacular scenery on the coasts, and in the Cork & Kerry mountains; our visits to Sean Kelly Square (below) in Carrick on Suir; and McCarthys bar in Castletownbere; and a tailwind assisted return ride from Midleton to Rosslare along the Copper Coast of Co. Waterford. As my stupid-phone had recently croaked, I invested in a smart-phone and uploaded the app for beoir.ie before departure. This proved an inspired addition - for it indicated where we could find the best local artisanal produce, whether smoked, pickled, homebaked, wind dried, distilled or brewed. As 2014 had been such fun, Peter and I planned an Irish End to End in 2015, using chunks of routes half-inched from the Audax Ireland website. To save leave, Peter travelled overnight via train and Fishguard – Rosslare ferry. I would start a Circuit of Ireland in Co Antrim, and pick him up at Tramore on the south east coast some 70k from the port. My route went via Belfast’s Sailortown and Comber Greenway, down the Ards peninsula to Portaferry; then south of the Mourne Mountains to Kilkeel, round Carlingford Lough to an overnight stop in Newry; then past the site of the Battle of the Boyne, and
the spectacular Monasterboice monastic remains to Dublin.
Avoided the worst of the city centre traffic by hopping on a DART train from Clontarf to Sandycove, for a selfie at the Martello tower immortalised by James Joyce. Exiting the city on a flat road was impossible as I was headed for an overnight stop at Roundwood in the Wicklow mountains. As riding direct to Tramore was too short a day awheel, I added a loop to collect some roads from Le Tour 1997, including the climb named to honour Irish Tour pioneer Shay Elliott. With mine having had a 3 day warm-up, and him losing half a nights sleep travelling, Peters legs needed help, and it arrived in the shape of a tooth abcess which popped up
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overnight in Glengarriff, Co. Kerry. Big thank you to the hosts at the Perrin Inn, and one of the guests who provided nurofen and directions to the polyclinic in the Savacentre in Kenmare. Such selfless assistance to total strangers is the norm in Ireland. While I sorted out enough painkillers to kill a donkey, and planned/made a visit to the dentist, we had a couple of short days riding. For the second year in a row, we cut the Dingle peninsula as we could see from the weather at the end that visibility when we got there would be limited. A wet mornings ride to the Tarbert ferry, and across Co. Clare to Ennis were soon forgotten as we troughed in an excellent café, but half a days rain became the pattern for the rest of the trip. Galway and Mayo – much flatter than Cork and Kerry - passed in a blur of showers, but with so many large lakes around, it has to rain a little. In any case we had booked a treat – dinner, B&B in Belleek Castle, Ballina. Refreshed by starched sheets and bathrobes (very useful to wring out wet gear), Sligo,
Leitrim and Fermanagh rolled easily under our wheels in a flurry of photo opportunities. Donegal welcomed us with a curtain of rain, a lot more hills, and a rising south westerly wind; but getting drenched as you arrive at your hotel always guarantees a warm welcome, and saves washing your clothes. All was forgiven as we made deep inroads on the breakfast buffet, and hay with a tailwind through the mountains to Letterkenny. As Peter had no wish to see Malin Head, we parted company and agreed to rendezvous at the Greencastle to Magilligan ferry. Inishowen peninsula is a lot longer than it looks on a map, and far from flat. Two hours in time trial mode saw me at Malin Head around 5pm; and two further hours hard riding got me to the ferry with 15 minutes to spare. A puncture anywhere on Inishowen would have meant a long detour via Stroke City – Derry/Londonderry. Having finished our ‘Irish End to End’, we completed the circuit of ‘the box’ ie Ireland minus the peninsulas, by riding for an overnight at my brother’s; then past the Giants Causeway along the improbably scenic Causeway Coast and Antrim Coast Roads. Peter seemed underwhelmed when I diverted him to Carrickfergus Castle so I could take his photo next to a statue of King William III. Was it the surfeit of sectarian flags and heaps of inflammable material which welcomed us to South Antrim, or the torrents of rain he so disliked? At least he had just enough time to dry all his clothes before heading home on the overnight Belfast to Birkenhead ferry.
are a tight knit and supportive group, the backing of Mayo.ie - the heartbeat of the Wild Atlantic Way, Failte Ireland (the Irish Tourist Board), and GMiT (Galway Mayo institute Technology) helped ensure Eamon could deliver an event of which all in Ireland would be proud. Ballina Engineering Works made bespoke trophies, and Primal livetracking provided 100% reliable waterproof trackers. Eamon came up with a jersey design incorporating a map of Mayo, and a grey patch on the stomach. Very handy for messy eaters, or those like me who occasionally wear newsprint to soak up precipitation …
As soon as I heard about the Wild Atlantic Way Audax (WAWA) being planned for June 2016, I was interested in riding. 2100k in 7 days 7 hours following the longest coast road in the world was just the sort of challenge I needed to fill the gap between 2015 Paris Brest Paris (PBP), and a further tilt at London Edinburgh London in 2017. “7 x 300ks but not massively hilly, and big skies/good daylight; bag drops at 600k, 1500k & transport of kit to the finish”. Transport would be easy as WAWA would start in Kinsale and finish in Derry – both of which have excellent transport connections. I emailed Eamon Nealon, the organiser, to enter and was welcomed with an invitation to send in a photo with one word to describe the WAWA: beoir (heat map of Ireland, above). A few issues would need sorting out: I would have to decline an offer to join friends planning a tilt at Roscoff to Nice, an excellent Diagonale; and WAWA would potentially clash with the once in my lifetime visit of ‘the wee team’ to the European Championships of fitba. Of more concern was the need to front load my 2016 season, to ensure I would be strong enough to ride 300k on 7 days consecutively, 2 months earlier in the calendar than my usual peak. My previous rides in Ireland had been done on my trusty 20 year old Condor, complete with Brooks saddle/bag loops & Carradice Barley bag. I would need a new waterproof, as the one I used in 2015 had leaked. As I planned to ride WAWA in daylight hours some changes would be required. The Specialised Roubaix full carbon bike I used for PBP would give me the speed I needed, but the racing saddle would not be comfortable enough for 2100k of grippy Irish roads. By switching the Brooks onto the Roubaix, I could ride full carbon in comfort, and the Barley would make me less dependent on drop bags. As overheating was unlikely to be an issue, one of my two bottles could contain enough 4:1 powder, to keep energy levels high for 7 days. I am not a big user of social media, but once I realised Eamon would be passing information via posts on the WAWA Facebook group, I signed up. It soon became clear that Eamon was being kept busy, attracting sponsors and support. While help from Audax Ireland would be guaranteed as they
While Eamon beavered away making arrangements, I worked on my fitness. For years, and always since cancer surgery zapped the lymphatic system in my legs, I have ridden a 200k in each month of the year. The 1800k Circuit of ‘The box’, had contributed to my highest ever annual mileage total, and I kept in reasonable shape through a very windy December and January by riding on 5/6 days. 10 more rides in each of February and March kicked fitness up a level, and included 4 consecutive days riding with luggage in a group led by Paul Whitehead. Hard Boiled 300k calendar and Dorset Coast 200k permanent rides in early April kept my spirits high, but then a setback at the start of May – just as Eamon Nealon, Jim Fitzpatrick and Seamus O’Dowd inaugurated the WAWA. 2 weeks out from the WAWA start line, I was immobile A virus, which affected my breathing, meant I had to pack within 80k of the start of my planned Porkers 400k, and stay off the bike for a week. Two test rides at pace the following week convinced me I could ride Bryan Chapman Memorial 600k; but I needed decent weather, as I was not convinced my system could stand a wet 600. Luckily this was a rare ‘dry Chapman’, and I cruised round in benign conditions. A full weeks rest, then two further test rides ridden faster than my long distance pace on consecutive days preceded a second 600k a fortnight later. For 500k, Brimstone went as smoothly as any Wessex ride with ~8000m of climbing ever can. Eased myself through 100 miles into the wind and most of the climbing on day I; 100k from the finish a rider, who ought to know better, stalled a pace line in which I was riding. Swerving to stay upright, I had to put my right leg down as an auxiliary brake, which jarred the knee. Completing the ride was not easy, but immediate ibuprofen and riding kept the joint from swelling up. By the following morning, 2 weeks out from the WAWA start line, I was immobile and could only reach the bathroom with the aid of two walking poles. Spent the rest of the week with the knee heavily strapped and leg up. You need luck and a lot of time to complete long brevets, and very understanding family support. By the following weekend I was becoming more mobile and, as I had made it clear to my long-suffering partner that I was going to the start of the WAWA, she bought me a folding Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
riders as we retraced along the Mizen peninsula, then flipped over the shoulder of Knockagna Mountain, to overlook Dunmanus Bay and Sheeps Head Peninsula – our next assignment.
stick I could deploy one handed and strap on the saddlebag. Before leaving London by train, I added a triathletes top tube bag to my luggage setup; this held 2 weeks supply of anti inflammatories/painkillers; 3 types of unguent, emergency food rations and a spare phone battery. My route to Kinsale included some relaxed 100k days via friends/ relatives in West Wales before I met Peter on the ferry from Fishguard. A damp evening prologue through Wexford and Waterford, preceded a 180k days retrace of our 2014 Copper Coast route (above). By the time we made our first overnight stop in Ireland, I had been up and down some severe Preseli hills, drenched repeatedly; and reminded why I had packed two spare pairs of brake blocks and a new goretex. Although I still had a pronounced limp when off the bike, I knew my knee should stand the riding - provided I pedalled evenly, and did not overuse the big ring. Knowing the bike would be considerably lighter after Kinsale, when my luggage would be split into bag drops, was a further significant positive Accommodation in the White House Hotel in the centre of Kinsale, around the corner from event HQ in the Temperance Hall allowed plenty of time to sample local produce. After the ‘airport security’ style PBP check ins, WAWA sign in was a joy. With informalities completed by late morning, and time on my hands, I hirpled off to do the Blacks of Kinsale brewery tour. Acquiring a leaflet detailing the dozen or so microbreweries along the Wild Atlantic Way, and a couple of bottleconditioned ales for my drop bags would give me something other than miles to focus on. Met Paul Whitehead, recently arrived off the plane/coach from Cork airport as he uncocooned his bike at the bag drop. That evening, over award winning chowder and local beers we confirmed our plans were similar: ride steady, and aim to finish in daylight each day. Ride day dawned bright and sunny with a cool NW breeze, then a change to SW – the prevailing wind direction forecast for later in the day. It was great to see familiar faces at the start, but I couldn’t help but laugh when Peter Turnbull asked whether he had missed the bike check. At 06:00 we were off, filmed 32
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by a drone and with the local Garda [police] squad car for company. As the pace settled, I started enjoying the birdlife on the shores of the endless series of bays we skirted, and chatting to riders. Main animators of the group were Rachel Nolan & Linda O’Connor, two of the four ladies who rode. Their entries to the ride were reminiscent of being pressganged into the Royal Navy – Eamon called Rachel to say that, as no ladies had entered, her name was on the start list. Rachel then phoned Linda to tell her that she too was riding! Although Rachel had never ridden further than a 200k audax, she keeps busy running Rachel’s Irish Adventures, and I was soon in no doubt of her strength. As early as the Pink Elephant after 25km, the elastic was stretching, and I was squirted out. Dropped again on a flat road, I fought hard to get back on, but took up a position punching tickets; then gave in at the first serious uphill behind Seven Heads. This didn’t bother me however as I’d lasted <45k in my start bunch on PBP, and each of the of many short sharp rises revealed glorious views. Of more concern was the wind, for any time the road turned inland it placed a firm hand on my chest. Saw Paul and others a few times and even thought I might get back on, but it was not to be. Taking a leaf from the Shawn Shaw playbook, Eamon threw in a couple of farm yards and a descent that will be nice if the roadmenders ever finish it. As I winched myself up a grunter after 60k, I was caught by Jim Fitzpatrick, riding his second WAWA in 2 months. Jim’s pace was too hot for me, but we would see one another at quite a few mealtimes in the next few days. Entering Baltimore, I saw Paul by the camper van control, but first we had to circumnavigate the village one way system for a look at the castle. I hadn’t expected to see Paul, but we have ridden together many times in Wessex and are well matched in temperament, tenacity and thirst. A quick cup of sweet tea and a slice or two of cake soon weaved their magic, and we rode together ie I sat in as much as I could get away with, and made Mizen Head in good order by 2pm. Having felt several sections of headwind, we could now expect some cross/ tail winds. Gave cheerful hellos to outgoing
Signs said it was ~50k to Kenmare, but Eamon made us go via Kilchrohane for an info control and, to ensure we climbed over the Goats Path. A quick beer and good banter in the Bay View Hotel helped us all loosen up for the climb, which marked the 100k to go point for the day. As Paul faded on the climb towards Glengariff, we decided it was beoir & taytos o’clock. 20k of easy riding with shelter provided by the huge Sugar Loaf Mountain to our north put us both in cruise mode as we turned towards the Healy Pass. While Paul stayed in his big ring for most of the climb, I dropped into my 28 x 34t small ring and twiddled up this cracking climb Alpine in feel, with lots of grey rock and long well graded hairpins. Morale soared as a rider above soon became a rider below, and Eamon & Seamus appeared on the square metre of flat ground at the summit to stamp our cards and offer encouragement - “28k and only one climb to go”. The climb to Lauragh was a bit of a pig, but in daylight and with home in sight, a power climb. We made Kenmare without needing front lights, and were soon made welcome in the GAA club weights room with an offer of pasta, pie, stew, curry and bottomless teas. “I’ll have all of that” said Paul, before proceeding to see off my pie as well. Over more cakes than even we could eat, we decided to rise at 5 and leave at 6 after breakfast. By riding hard we’d been awheel for 14hrs:09 for our 322.6k, averaging 22.3kph between 06:00 and 21:45. Not bad considering we’d climbed 4637m in total. Accommodation was provided on inflatables bearing a numbered sleeping bag which faeries would transport for us each day. These bedding faeries also provided clean towels and all manner of tlc, and were the unsung heroes of the WAWA and we made a point of saying thanks before heading off each day. No poles, just a series of switchback 1:5s. Eek! Eamon had warned us that days I & II were the longest, but day II “wasn’t too bad”. What a whopping lie! Granted the ~70k round the south half of the scenic Ring of Kerry was lovely riding. However, after Waterville he diverted us on a Star Wars tour round Ballinskelligs Bay and on towards Valencia Island. Usually I judge the steepness/course of a climb by the telegraph poles, but the one over Bolus Head didn’t have any. No poles, just a series of switchback 1:5s. Eek, what’s holding the tarmac on! Having grovelled up, I couldn’t even let go on the way down it was spitting and the toy car and van I had seen ahead were in the way when I was just about to hit Mach II on the steepest part of the ski-jump descent. Tea and fruit cake from the camper van in Portmagee soothed my frazzled legs; while flat-ish roads and prevailing winds kept our pace high on the northern half of the Ring. As we raced to our planned lunch stop at Castlemaine, after 100 miles, we didn’t like what we could see www.aukweb.net
to our left – the Dingle peninsula was shrouded in low cloud. Rain started as we left the pub by the shop with no food, but stayed light for 30k. As we rose from the coast to meet the N86 trunk road, the rain and traffic thickened. By Lispole it was full on “I am getting too old for this sh*t” weather. This was the low point of my whole WAWA, and if Eamon had appeared in the road I would have run over him, then reversed and repeated the SMIDSY. Pulled over to cape up and stuff in half my emergency jelly babies. Warmer but not drier, and with mood significantly enhanced by the family sized sugar rush, we skipped through Dingle, even ignoring a microbrewery en route. We passed a dozen or more prehistoric sites, all invisible in the mist, and kept thinking “ I must return in the summer sometime”. By the end of the peninsula at
Slee Head, the clouds parted long enough for us to see Eamon’s info control and take photos of the Blasket islands (above) offshore. We didn’t hang about for long though, for no sooner had the islands appeared than the weather we would be getting in 10 minutes shrouded them again. The road past Slee Head has famously fallen into the Atlantic several times and now follows a line 100m inland. This doesn’t spoil the great views and you only have to cycle up a 1:6, rather than the bypassed grunter at Dunquin ferry slip, down which many a sheep has rolled over the years. Racing inland with our friendly tailwind, we hoped to make Dingle before the weather closed in again. Passing through Barryferriter, my radar went ping, and brakes locked when I saw a sign in English advertising WestKerrybrewery. ie beers in Tigh ui Chathain pub. This was a result as I hadn’t been confident of asking in Gaelic for directions to Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne in Baile an Fheirtearaigh, or correctly interpreting the answer. 2 pints of West Kerry Porter and fish and chips soon disappeared, as did the rain shower we had been dodging. Paused briefly in Dingle to point an ashen-faced and bedraggled looking Nick Cannon into a coffee shop before his 31k Slee Head loop, then glided up the Conor Pass in the rising tailwind. Once Paul’s tail light danced away I could see nothing but cloud, and hear nothing but the wind. 30 minutes later I was alarmed when my GPS jumped from 320 to 420m, but that wasn’t as scary as pausing in the full blown hooley at the summit. My descent of the Conor Pass makes me feel queasy even now, as several times I felt I could be blown over the low wall into the void I sensed to my left. Reduced to descending on the right ie wrong side of the road with my weight firmly over the front forks, I stopped to switch on my front light www.aukweb.net
and regain composure. Carried on doom, I mean downwards, as fast as the crosswind and my nerves would allow, and eventually dropped out of the cloud. Caught Paul dawdling a few miles further on wondering if he should report me as a UFO. As soon as we regrouped, we took off towards Tralee with the slope and our roaring tailwind for company, and another daylight finish in mind. A couple of wrong turnings negotiating round Tralee reminded me how tired my brain and legs were, and that I had been maturing bakewell tarts in my bag for 100k. On our final section grovelling due west into the wind, we had plenty of time to sympathise with those who still had to face Conor Pass (below), as the mountains across the bay were shrouded in low rain bearing clouds. As dusk neared, we bimbled on lanes inland of Banna strand, past the impressive
monument to Sir Roger Casement, who was arrested here having come ashore from a German submarine on Good Friday morning 21 April 1916 in furthering the cause of Irish freedom. Casement is also known as the father of twentieth-century human rights investigations; and owned the second best whiskers on the WAWA. After 199 miles in damp clothes, the flesh pots of Ballyheigue hove into view at 10pm, just as a humungous shower hit. 5 minutes later and we would have been drenched, rather than merely soaked to the skin. Eamon was right though - day IIs riding wasn’t as hard as day I: we’d been awheel for 14:09 again but had averaged 22.6kph and climbed only 3118m in total. The welcome started before we had dismounted as a driver, who had seen us pause near the seafront, guessed correctly that we needed directions to Ballyheigue Community Hall. Inside the cosy control, the welcome was off the scale good: for the parish priest had made an announcement from the pulpit before WAWA, and the local cooks put on a spread to do Kerry proud. Eamon had ordered an extra WAWA trophy for each set of controllers, and these daily presentations while riders were present were an excellent idea. Paul and I showed our appreciation in the best way possible, and had soon eaten more than is strictly healthy. Seamus, Eamon’s technical guru revealed that my tracker was functioning well, but would need a recharge the following night. Our start on Day III could be a late one as the first ferry across the Shannon from Tarbert did not leave until 09:30. Slept light due to the rain bouncing off the roof of the hall all night, but at least we had clean clothes and a late start to look forward to; and Met Éireann forecast another wet morning, but less rain later in the day.
Before breakfast I checked on Peter’s progress, and was pleased to find he was one of the living dead stirring in the dormitory. Paul and I exited at 07:00 with yesterday’s hooley still at our backs, and plenty of time for the 40k ride NE to Tarbert. Averaging 28kph on this leg was no comfort, for the next 50k were WSW to the first control at Kilrush and onwards to Loop Head at the mouth of the Shannon. With half the field huddled at the ferry slip, the on-board tea bar and hand driers in the toilets were soon busy. Steady rain welcomed us to Co. Clare, and became heavy just as we arrived in Kilrush, where the West Clare CC provided a wonderful spread of food. Despite having ridden only 50k since breakfast, we all ate again as we knew what was coming. It wasn’t raining hard enough to dampen spirits, but not all riders wanted to remove outdoor gear. The leg to Loop Head lighthouse was as rugged a morning’s cycling as I can remember. The inland lanes had more potholes than you could shake a stick at and no hedges to in which to find a stick; on the coastal section along Kilbaha Bay, the Atlantic was at its wildest and the horizontal rain had a salty tang. Nearing the lighthouse, the wind was just plain silly. With only 90k completed by 1pm, a daylight finish looked unlikely. However, as soon as we turned NE with the wind at our backs, our average speed doubled and we reeled off 50k in 90 minutes. A short section into the wind at Lahinch was unwelcome but relief came with a quick beer stop, and the camper van at the foot of the Hill of Moher. Three days in, I was developing a full blown cherry-Genoa habit, but the cake fuelled me well for the climb. The 200m tall Cliffs of Moher remained unseen due to the mist, but we cared not, for our route followed the coast road through the Burren National Park. According to Oliver Cromwell’s 2nd in command “there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him” in the Burren.
However this is a truly amazing landscape rich with historical and archaeological sites; the vast glaciated limestone pavements were fantastically atmospheric in the mist, and made those above Malham Cove seem a bit like a rockery. Aside from my many photo stops, progress was fairly quick as we rolled ENE with shelter from the mountains inland of us. We completed our 262k in 10:52 at an average of 24.1kph shortly after 20:30. With only 1831m of climbing the shortest day of the WAWA almost felt like a recovery ride. Soon after arriving at the super friendly but labyrinthine Oranmore GAA Club, I set about Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
finding places to hang up all my sodden accessories. At ground floor, my coat was draped on the bike and shoes went on a hot pipe in the shower room. That day’s sock liners were binned but are now generating electricity for the Irish National Grid. In the dining room above I festooned a radiator with arm warmers, socks, mitts and hat, and left my mobile phone & tracker charging; and in the sleeping quarters between I slept on my damp towel and shirt. By a miracle I was able to remember where I had left all this stuff the following morning; and the sleeping bag cover did not explode when packed with yesterday’s dirty clothes. The kitchen had clearly been warned of our approach, for free beer greeted us and an unofficial stew and pie eating competition soon broke out. Paul exceeded 30kph (kilograms of pie in an hour), a clear breach of AUK regulations. We had seen few other riders since leaving Loop Head, and none since our cake stop at Moher, but Eamon and Seamus were attentively tracking the riders still on the road, especially those to the rear of the field who would most need their tlc. Rachel and Linda had been eating when we arrived, and other riders trickled in as we ate, all very wet and telling tales of their nightmare excursion to Loop Head. Less than a third of the field had appeared by the time we turned in, and there were more empty beds in the dorm the following morning. After 3 days, the distance, strong winds and wet weather were biting deep into the field. Up at 5 and out at 6 again, with company from a giant Galwegian who had ridden over from Maam Cross to escort riders through the city. He came in handy as a windbreak as we headed to our turn at Clifden on the west coast. I slowed Goliath once to let a shower pass ahead of us, but mostly we chatted and ran a 3-up as the morning miles passed agreeably. Approaching the impressive Twelve Pins mountains in Connemara National Park, we had to speed up to miss the next shower with our name on it, but then got separated approaching Clifden. Fish and chips and a couple of local beers went in sideways, but progress was slower as we had to digest it on the climb over the shoulder of the Mamturk mountains. When Eamon told us we would be riding along a fjord, we assumed he was away with the faeries again; He wasn’t kidding though, for the scenery here was very spectacular and by our next brewpause in Leenane, we were scanning the opposite bank of Killary Harbour for riders ahead of us. My favourite roads are flat ones through high mountains, and the circuit of the inlet and Doo Lough
Pass via which we headed inland met both these criteria. As we would soon turn due west into the wind, we paused with 45k to go so I could sample Westport brewed beers and compare beards with the local brewer.
The final 12k of our evening from Mulrany was into a rising gale on a minor road which again showed the Atlantic coast at her wildest. Our hard ridden 302k had taken us 13:22 at an average of 22.6kph. Although we hadn’t gone above 93m all day, we had climbed 3106m. The rapid drop in temperatures and clouds thickening across the bay gave later finishers a rugged evening and night. The local primary school had been commandeered as the control in Corraun, a
sparsely populated rural community overlooking Achill Island to the west. The welcome here was as warm and attentive as on other days, with mechanics on hand overnight to tweak bikes; and a shower butler – who drove riders to and from the nearby GAA club and acted as gofer for anything else we needed. Having carried pages of my road atlas of the WAWA route since Kinsale, I decided now was the time to look at them. The Day V route including 3 loops and I needed to know when, or if we might get a break from the wind. The first loop of 80k went round Achill Island and back to Corraun with about half the distance into the gale and another third in a crosswind. The scenery was superb, especially on the Atlantic Drive hugging the west coast of Achill, but after nearly 4.5 hours hard cycling in a landscape with few trees, we weren’t half glad to return to Corraun to refuel. We’d seen no-one going our way but Hungarian András Vaszula and Peter Turnbull going round the loop in the opposite direction will have had a harder time than us. The retrace of our route to Mulrany was followed by 35k of main road bash, all made much easier by the prevailing wind. Just as
Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
well, for 20k of head/crosswind started our second loop of the day, down to the Sea Rod Inn. Until we arrived, the publicans had been distinctly puzzled as why so many cyclists had been stopping to look at their remote pub! A much easier 20k took us to Belmullet for the first of 2 visits separated by a 48k schlep out and back to Blacksod lighthouse near the tip of the peninsula. A few k into the grovel I felt a stiffness in my right thigh, and was worried I might have pulled something. Soft pedalled as much as possible on the drops, and was much relieved to get to Blacksod without the leg getting any worse. Stretched in the shelter of the lighthouse, and was able to pedal strongly on the tailwind assisted cruise back to Belmullet. By then I began to think I had had a cramp or lymph issue, rather than a pulled muscle. Popped some nurofen and did some discreet lymph massage and stretching while watching Germany v NI on the tele. Germany scoring, rather than being caught massaging my leg, was our cue to leave. The rolling ride across north Mayo towards Ballina offered lovely views of boglands and cliffs; but perhaps my tapeworm was getting hungry again for the spectacular cliffs at Ceide Fields resembled a large slice of cake. Made Ballina after 13:20 riding and a total climb of 3649m. Today’s loops into strong winds had reduced our average speed to 22.1kph – our slowest day yet. Loop Head had been hard but Blacksod was probably worse as it was into a block headwind, and 180k into the day; riders further down the field were in for another long night’s riding. Received the usual great welcome from the controllers at Ballina Rugby Club, who had kindly arranged a supply of Ballina brewed beers to supplement the by now customary mounds of food. Over dinners, Paul and I agreed to rise at 5 and hit the road around 6. Massages were available here but, sore and tempted as I was, I dreaded the medic telling me to quit. Did my own lymph massage to relieve what now felt like a solid lump in the vastus medialus muscle in my thigh, and topped up my painkillers. After a couple more beers, I relaxed enough to go in search of my drop bag and a hot shower; then slept noisily in my compression socks dreaming of pharmacies. Flat north Mayo roads offering nice views of the coast and the Ox Mountains inland were just what the doctor ordered. After Eamon’s excursions to Loop Head and Blacksod, we started to get twitchy when we saw a lighthouse across Sligo Bay; but we needn’t have worried for the wind had dropped considerably and the clouds had gone from grey to high and fluffy. Loops out to Strandhill, Rosses Point and Lisadell on minor roads held no terrors, and kept us off the busy trunk roads around Sligo. Mullaghmore added more scenic 360º views to the album and a preview of the weather we could expect in Donegal in a few hours. In Bundoran we paused briefly at the camper van control, and to pick up a tubigrip bandage. The pharmacist recommended rest but accepted it wouldn’t start for another 36 www.aukweb.net
hours; she also paused before handing me scissors, in case I added a stab wound to my WAWA self-harming. Wrestled one thickness of bandage on to give me a cocoon from ankle to top of right thigh, which immediately made pedalling feel better. Paid homage to Rory Gallagher in his hometown of Ballyshannon; but didn’t loiter long as the rain had returned. Our bash to Donegal town was done at high speed to minimise time on the N15 trunk road in thickening rain, and required a beer break to calm nerves. Paused briefly exiting town to cape up, just as a cloudburst arrived. Another attritional afternoon’s riding beckoned. Luckily Eamon’s route to the large fishing port of Killybegs ducked off the main road quite a bit, meaning we could climb the increasingly testing rollers in peace. If we had known how testing the westbound leg to Glencolumbkille would be, we might have had more than just a quick stand up snack overlooking Killybegs harbour. The steady 10k climb inland of Slieve League on wet roads was immediately followed by a steep descent, and sharp right to regain all the precious lost height. Glengesh Pass was glorious in the early evening sun but, as I went into the red zone on the climb, I had to work hard to catch Paul on the descent. Knowing of the 1:6 out of town, we paused at Nancy’s pub in Ardara. The last 40k of the day through 'Daniel O'Donnell country' to Lackenagh passed easily as the cloud had lifted while we supped, and the breeze was favourable. Today’s 297k took us 13:41 on the road. With 3662m of climb, our average was 21.7kph. 6 days at ~300k/day was taking a toll. As the days 280m highpoint was well into the days ride, and there was little if any shelter after Killybegs, later finishers would have another punishing night. St Columbus Community Hall was a warm and welcoming haven with controllers to match. Up at 5 to be riding by 6, we were reassured to see quite a few bikes in the hall. We were also confident we’d make it as we were both well rested and had clean clothes for the run in. The last days riding was relaxed to start with, as the morning light was great for photography. Orchids grow wild and in profusion around the Bloody Foreland,
which is always windy as there is nothing between here and America. Despite many, many more cottages dotted about the Donegal landscape since I first visited in the 1960s, Dunfanaghy, Doe Castle and Sheephaven retain their attractiveness; and the new bridge onto the Fanad peninsula offers great 360o views of Drongawn Lough. The grunter out of Carrowkeel was worthy of Wessex and stopped us dozing off before our stand-up lunch stop on the outskirts of Letterkenny. Met Peter Turnbull’s dad here, looking worried: Peter had missed his turn over the bridge and was in danger of doing an extra 40 mile loop. Ever the sadist, Eamon gave us a tailwind assisted hour’s main road bash to within 25k of Derry, before he diverted us off for an extra 100 mile loop round the Inishowen peninsula. Knowing that Mamore Gap lay in
wait, Paul and I stopped for coffee in Buncrana; and again soon after to cape up when a heavy squall arrived. Thankfully the shower didn’t last long, as Mamore would have been un-rideable in heavy rain. I was only able to get up it in my lowest gear by tacking back and forth using the full width of the road - My second “I am getting too old for this sh*t” moment of the WAWA. On the approach to Mamore, we hooked up with Pat Dease, who we’d seen a couple of times since sharing a pint in the Sea Rod. Self-described as a poor descender, Pat plummeted off the hill and was last seen by Paul overshooting and retracing at the bottom. Didn’t see Pat again until the approach to Malin Head as I value my teeth higher than the adrenalin rush from the descent. Coming after 200k,
Mamore Gap was the literal highpoint of the day; however as there was a perfectly good alternative, I couldn’t help thinking that later riders would not thank Eamon for including it. Our Day 7 luck with the weather ran out when we copped a cloudburst. As summer leaf cover on one of the few roadside trees didn’t help much, we eventually pressed on through Malin to complete our Irish 'End to End' around 19:00. As Ireland’s most northerly coffee cart wasn’t there, we celebrated instead with a pint in Irelands most northerly bar; then legged it before the rains came back. Treated Paul to a couple of verses of "The seagulls they fly high in Moville" to celebrate clearing the last hill of the day. He seemed less appreciative than I had expected, but not half as underwhelmed as when the final storm of our WAWA arrived.
Arrived drenched at the Peace Bridge, having grafted along Lough Foyle into a brisk Sou'wester. The final days 312k ride had included 4244m of climbing, and taken us 17 hours on the road at 21.1kph. I had needed my front light for the last hours ride, the first time it had been on since the descent of Conor Pass. Mr Tetchy made a brief appearance at the finish when I found my civvies were awol (for which I heartily apologise); but this was a minor inconvenience, and all was forgiven after I had had a large pizza and a night’s sleep in a bed. Peter had arrived safely overnight and we returned to the Peace Bridge wearing our stupid ‘we did it’ grins to cheer in the final riders due by ~13:00. Considering this was a first ever running of the event WAWA, Eamon and his devoted teams of helpers delivered an absolute Tour de Force. Eamon has plans to run the event again in 2020, possibly in the reverse direction. If Eamon sidles up to you on LEL or PBP, beware. He has a silver tongue and does not take no for an answer.
Afterword: As distances between bag-drops on LEL are shorter, I will be taking a smaller bag; and carrying only 2 inner tubes. The one liquid, one powder bottle setup worked well in Ireland, and will again provided hot weather is not forecast for LEL week. In that instance, I will use 2 bottles for liquid and put powder in drop bags.
Arrivée May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
ArrivĂŠe May 2017 No. 136
Dartmoor Devil. Photo: Graham Brodie Next event: 29 October 2017