Portugal 2016

Episode 1. Here goes


5am and I’m up, ready to don the riding gear and head for Portsmouth. My bike sits outside covered over and looking like there is a passenger already on the pillion seat. When the cover comes off I realise that with a rucksack on its not going to be easy to throw a leg over. Didn,t I do lots of prep to prevent just this sort of thing? Then there is the shuffling to get it back out through the gate, its heavy, have I packed too much? She starts on the button without issue and my sister takes a snap of me wobbling down the road bound for, well bound for nowhere in particular. Things have changed since my original plans and having adapted to the changes they changed again. I’m not good with agendas so I’m going and will just make it up as I go along. There is a rough plan to get to Portugal and a definite date in Oliana, Spain for a two day navigational event, but apart from that Europe beckons for my first continental adventure.


I made it down to Portsmouth in good time with little or no traffic on the road at that time on a gloomy looking Saturday morning. I notice that the rev counter bulb has blown, it’s no biggy as I am going to be riding in daylight hours only and the hassle of stripping the light cluster for one bulb is not worth the effort. I quickly board the ferry and the bike is lashed down. I make my way up to the passenger area, purchasing a coffee and Pan Au Chocolate, oh yes I’m positively continental.

IMG_1675

Let’s talk tech. I have with me a small tablet, my phone and a gopro. I’m not good with any of them but I quickly link to the ferry WiFi. What follows is an hour of updates and uploads whilst trying to get to grips with typing on a tab. Then I see that I don’t have google docs so that is currently downloading as I write this in a memo form, hoping it will copy over to docs and then onto the new blog I have set up. Surely it’s easy, after all its just words right?


Ok it does seem it is that easy. So it’s now 4.30pm and I’m in my hotel. Want to know how it all went? Well I managed to get through passport control and onto the French roads of Cherbourge without issue. Thanks to my handy yellow arrow on the inside of my fly screen, I even managed to stay on the right side of the road. I followed the majority of other English vehicles through the town, not because I don’t have a map but because I fell asleep on the ferry and woke up as we were advised to collect our vehicles. So I had no plan other than to head for Mont Saint Michel. Luckily that was advertised quite soon and I simply picked up the route and followed it. The sky was still grey and every now and then there was a hint of sunshine. I passed San Mere Eglise a place I recall from my school trip aged 13. I now wish I had just ridden through SME. A lesson learnt as I may never visit that area again and a trip down memory lane would have been nice. However I was aware that I needed to get on and make for the hotel which was a heady 250miles away. I always knew France was going to be a big push just to get through but I have already learnt that its not about the miles its about the journey.
Anyway the miles came and went as did the first fuel stop in Saint Etienne En-Cogles. A tiny typical French village just off the main road. It had a beautiful church in the centre and a tiny petrol station attached to a B&B. The lady spoke no English and I spoke very bad French but hey the bike was filled and I was back on the road. The wrong side of the road as it turns out, much to the farmers surprise I’m sure. Where was the handy yellow arrow to remind me? In fairness it was still there and a quick glance showed it was I who was in the wrong, so I stopped berating the poor chap and swerved back onto my side before impact. Back on The main road I noticed The bikers don’t do the English “head nod” in recognition of another biker, oh no, over here its a full arm wave if travelling in The opposite direction or a Valentino Rossi style leg wave as they pass you on the same side of the road. I have the arm wave down but my VR leg shake is not the best, kinda looks like I’m shaking something out of my trouser leg, which I am sure will happen if the quality of the toilets doesn’t improve.


The roads were straight and dull, typical dual carriageway all the way, but the weather was improving and the bike purred along nicely. I was starting to thoroughly enjoy myself, even more so when I noticed several women in different vehicles taking time to wave and nod approvingly, as if to say, good on you, have fun on your trip. Well thanks ladies I will try my best.
The next decision, do I go on the toll road to finish the last 50km? No of course not, a decision made even easier by the clearly signed route. What followed was archetypal French villages and farm land, sweeping roads passing through tiny villages, houses with clay tiled roofs. It was heavenly and getting hotter by the kilometre.
Ok I am officially shattered but slightly more confident with the blog thing. I can’t work out how to add photos yet, nor tell anyone where the blog is, but hold fire friends I will get it sorted out. Having eaten just one Pan Au Chocolate for the day I really need to find some food.

IMG_1678

Week 8 No longer down but out!

Its not news to any of you that we are currently facing incredible times of isolation and uncertainty due to Covid-19. The triathlon I have entered has been cancelled. I can defer until 2021 or an event later in the year, however that event is during a time I hope to be travelling. I will continue to train as best I can and continue to do occasional updates on progress. I will get this event done and hopefully make the money I want to for such a great cause.

Keep the faith people we will get through this and return to an active fun life that we all deserve. Take care of yourselves and those you love. Above all, in the words of Caroline Flack “Be Kind”.

Week 5,6 and 7. Down but not out.

The hospital have said 6 to 8 weeks before I can train again. That’s cutting it fine, but forget that I need to get back on my feet. The first two days I spent with my foot elevated and ice packs every three waking hours. The bruising came out, the sharp muscular pain eased a bit. Trips to the bathroom involved adding the ankle support and a hobble the short distance. I didnt do stretching exercises until day three but prior to that I was slowly writing the letters of the alphabet in the air with my toes. Keeping the ankle mobile but under no load was a priority. As the days went on I used it more and froze it less. It was day 6 that I went back to work for an 8 hour shift, luckily I was rostored a day off on day 7. Since then I have been back at work full time and each day sees the ankle getting stronger, although it still smarts at the end of the day.

Just a gentle reminder that I’ve not been training!!

Cycling: none

Running: none

Swimming: I’m back in the pool, or at least I was last night. I managed 200m in small bites, all freestyle. It felt great to do some phys’.

Week 4. Maths and other matters

Maths. It may have come to your attention that my weekly updates are more than a week apart. The truth is that I work 7 days and then have either 2 or 3 days off, therefore what I consider a week is anywhere between 9 to 10 days. Of course that means I have less weeks to prepare than I initially thought. 

Other Matters. Oh where to start? Training was going so well, right up until last Friday. It was my first day shift back at work, three hours in I was stepping off a walkway onto uneven ground when my foot slipped and rolled onto its side as I transferred my full body weight to it. I fell to the floor with searing pain in my ankle and shin. I stayed down for about thirty seconds in absolute agony. I was helped to my feet and hobbled to the workshop where I sat for some time. Next I headed up to the surface and to Boots to buy an ankle support and pain killers. I pretty much sat out the rest of the day. On Saturday morning I got up to go to work but could barely walk and certainly wasn’t going to make it to the train station, let alone a day of work in the tunnels. I went to A&E where I saw two doctors and had an X-ray to determine if I had broken any bones. In the end it turns out I have stretched tendons and torn a few muscles.20200215_144032 (1) The upshot of that is I have been off work for five days and I have been told no running for 6 to 8 weeks (Your weeks not mine). No running until April, giving me less than 4 weeks to finish my training and get the event done on the 8th of May. 

On a good note my Bens Just Giving page has got off to a great start and that is all the motivation I need to get back on it as soon as possible. I will get this done one way or another, so please visit the page and give whatever you can to this very worthy cause. 

Thanks. Ben

 

Week 3. Tri-ing for Eva. (Now aiming for summer 2021)

tri2The best motivation. When you do these things it’s great to have motivation. I now have the best motivation, so I am pleased to announce the launch of my Just Giving page. I have some very dear friends who will appreciate your help with whatever you can give. Read the full story at Bens Just Giving page

Continue reading “Week 3. Tri-ing for Eva. (Now aiming for summer 2021)”

Week 2 (before covid)

I know it’s not been a week but I was late starting the blog.

So this week I have been on nights and it has been crazy busy at work. My job can be quite physical and this week has really taken it out of me. However I have signed up to do the Winchester Try-tri in May. 12 weeks to pull this together, so here’s the update.

Cycling… Well I have upped the duration but not the difficulty setting on the training bike at the gym. With 2 visits I am up to a 30 minute cycle and 5 minute cool down before heading to the running machine. 30 minutes sees me completing about 15km on what would be a flat road. My heart rate stays fairly reasonable and breathing is equally unaffected. But cycling is my best discipline.

Running… straight from the bike I transition to the running machine (Look at me with the tri lingo). Again I’m ok with running, I dont monitor my heart rate and I dont currently look at pace. I just make sure I add 5 minutes each session. It is currently in parallel with the bike riding. Quick story: when I started out I would run then cycle but obviously that’s the wrong way round, so I swapped. The upshot of that was I found myself needing a wee during the run. Thinking back and quite horrifically during my last actual tri I had to stop for a wee, taking cover in the grounds of a posh house to do so. Worryingly it seems I also have to train my bladder! I ran the Basingstoke Park Run this week and it felt ok. It wasnt a great time but it was a non stop 5km.

Swimming….. Oh god, swimming. I have watched a few training videos, well learn to swim videos, and realised I need to slow down and concentrate on my style and breathing. I managed 140m with some front crawl. I have also enquired about some lessons, yep it’s that bad.

Week 1

                            Tri

I dont have a bicycle to use, it’s way too cold to run outdoors and I need access to a pool. A quick search on the web and I am confronted with a plethora of gyms local to me. I get it down to two and pay the first a visit. The Nuffield Health and Fitness Spa has a lovely ring to it. Most importantly its impeccably clean. You already know I’m not a fan of swimming but it’s a necessary evil that I need to deal with. The pool is only twenty meters but that’s ok because it’s a lovely place to be, with constant lane swimming if you want. I’m sold and after a jolly round the rest of the place I pay for the monthly, no contract option.

The plan is to use only common sense and YouTube to train. On my first actual gym session I start with a gentle run. I’m not looking at distance or speed, just making sure I can do 15 minutes with a 5 minute cool down. Then onto the cycle and again 15 minutes and cool off before a shower and home. It’s been ok. Im not terribly worn out and my plan is to add 5 minutes per session to build stamina and then up the difficulty to get some resemblance of race pace.

The first swim was a little less good. I was aiming for 100 meters in any format. It ended up being one length front crawl and four breast stroke. My lungs burned, my body sunk and I hated it. I knew I would and that I will have to work hard to conquer this thorough dislike of swimming. On getting home I watched some videos on how to breath and not sink in the water. I am now considering, actually paying for some lessons.

I also need to find an event to do and follow up on an enquiry I have made to help me stay focused. But more of that later.

2020 Triathlon (2021 now)

What’s a triathlon?

There are 3 disciplines in triathlon, Swimming, cycling and running. Lets take each in turn in relation to my experience.

20190529_070855Running: I have done a few runs in my time but nothing for about 10 years. Previously I have run two half marathons, the last in 1999! That was a bit of a disaster as I had run the same event the year before. Having trained I and completed it without issue. So the following year I decided I didn’t need to train and ran it with no prior exercise. My rule for running is to never stop, so I didn’t. It wasn’t a great time but I managed it. At the finish I couldn’t find any water so I drank a can of Coke straight down. What followed was projectile vomit and three days in bed with shakes and pain I never thought possible.

cropped-20180912_105148.jpgCycling: Well having not learnt my lesson from running, I did complete a huge cycle ride in 2018. The blog is on this site. In short with very little notice and just two test rides I fitted saddle bags to my 10 year old mountain bike and cycled to Italy. Unlike my running it went amazingly well, but it wasn’t a race just a nice ride. I’ve not ridden a road bike since 2006 or any bike since I came back from Italy.

Swimming: CNV00050If you’ve read the above and are thinking the mans a fool, let me confirm that for you. I dislike swimming quite a lot. I will splash around in a pool and go in the sea but swimming is just not me. I did a starter triathlon many years ago and the swim was 400m. I used three styles of swimming, front crawl, breast stroke and doggy paddle. I was the last person out the pool and the next wave of swimmers clapped me, in a thank god he’s finished type way.

So that’s my fitness history and weirdly I have decided to do it all again. I have a good friend who wants to do a triathlon and we agreed to do it last year but it never happened. So its this years little challenge. It works well for me as I have a trip planned later this year that requires a certain level of fitness to deal with the altitude. I will try to do weekly updates as I try to get from old couch sloth to triath-sloth.

Game of Trains

I’d made it and I was a very happy bunny, yes I was behind schedule and yes I was only just over the border to Italy, but I didn’t say I was going to do anything other than cycle to Italy. Time was running out and having made it to Oulx I headed straight to the train station where a very helpful member of staff sorted out my three trains to get me to Bologne the next day. I then looked for a hotel nearby and set off. The hotel was really nice and my bike was stored inside the lobby. I walked up through the little town and found a small bar serving food. It was my first Italian meal and I made sure it was very Italian. Tagliatelle, Tiramisu and some Italian beer. It was late by the time I got back to the hotel and sleep came easy.

I was up early, packed and filled on breakfast goodies. I had promised myself no cycling today. I was truly going to let the train take care of getting me back on track, so to speak.  Then with the bike loaded it was a short walk to the station. I arrived in plenty of time to get some photos and do some video. As I reached to get my phone I pulled out the hotel key! So 20 minutes into the day I was on the bike and pedalling back to the hotel. Looping back to the station I had a short wait before the train to Turin.

Train station at Oulx. (take 2)

On board the bike sat happily against the un-openning doors of the carriage and I sat close by, just in case they should open. We chugged off and I got on with the blog, trying not to be distracted by the countryside whistling past. Within an hour we arrived at Turin and I had an hour wait before my next train to Milan. The station was modern and clean with fine clothing stores and amazing gelato shops. It was here I first noticed the immaculate presentation of Italians. Beautiful people who seem to represent a wonderful lifestyle, it made me wonder how much was real and how much a front. But it didn’t matter they looked great.


Turin to Milan was uneventful and instantly forgettable, as was the quick change at Milan.
Milan to Verona
Onto the third train to Verona. This time I got on and placed the bike across the opposite doorway, which was a mistake. Every station had a platform on that side and as the train was packed there was nothing I could do but stand with it and move a little at every station for those getting on or off. It was a baking hot day on a packed train with all the available windows open it was still very unpleasant and I was pleased after two hours to be at Verona. It was due to be a quick change but this train was late and I’d missed my connection to Bologna. It was just a 30 minute wait and that train was new and air conditioned. I got in the rear carriage and stowed the bike as best I could. With two minutes to departure the guard told me all cycles should be at the front. I rushed to the front with the special cycle store. What followed was a saga of trying to lift the bike vertical into the special rack and attach a clamp to the frame. It wasn’t happening and in the end, because they insisted it stay in the rack, it balanced on the rear wheel completely unsupported and more likely to fall. At later stations 3 other cyclist simply leant their bikes against the racking as I had wanted to. Anyway we got to Bologna without issue and an route I booked the Hotel Europa. It’s cheap cost was not reflected in the quality.

Bonjour…. act2

Before we continue with the trials and tribulations of my journey lets just take a minute to consider the state I was in by this time. 14 days of cycling had taken its toll, I ached and I was sore. The aching resulted in the consumption of pain killers like they were Smarties. My legs were increasingly less helpful in getting up hills and even walking was becoming more difficult. My bum was still sore but less so as the pain receptors decided it was pointless complaining more. I was by now 2 to 3 days behind schedule and there was no way I was going to be able to cycle the whole distance to Tuscany. So I hatched a plan and after consulting with the tourist info it was time to make a decission.

It’s only 16km to the border or there about, but according to the tourist info’ it was a steep road. By now it was 2.30pm and I was going to try for the border. The final section of the ride to Briancon town was a long downhill so I was forced to walk mostly to the start of the road to Italy. Then I got aboard and headed off up the hill which turned to a steep hill and then an impossible hill, we’ll call it a mountain or Mount Genevre to give it its correct name. I had other names for it! It was a torturous climb which was surrounded by sublime views and the always present view of the climb to come. Very quickly I realised this was going to be more of a challenge than I had expected. 16km could take as little as an hour in normal conditions, but these were not normal conditions

20180912_153429

What was clear was the rain clouds were following me and I was sure they were getting closer. It didn’t matter that it was muggy and hot, nor that the rain was coming in, my body was simply at the end of its ability to push harder. I was off the bike more than on it and it mattered not that I had enjoyed the long run down from Col de Lauretet my body soon forgot that and it was screaming out for a rest. It didn’t get one, what it got was endless views of the twisting road and steep inclines.

At one point I walked through some extensive road works and it was a slog. I had to stop and sit on the roadside wall amongst the workers. After a short break I stood to continue the big push up the endless mountain, as I stood the dizziness started and I wobbled before taking a deep breath and concentrating on not falling over I set off. I was exhausted and the thumping in my head was not all down to the high pressure of the stormy weather behind me. I continued to walk on. It was three hours of torture with very little cycling to be had. Eventually more sky filled my view, indicating the top was close by. I stopped by a signpost that had a floral border and wall to sit on. I took more pain killers and filmed my despair. Having turned off the camera I quickly turned round and threw up into the flora. I was ready to turn back, I could simply coast down that immense mountain, get back to Briancon and get a train in the morning. The only things stopping me were the rain clouds and the knowledge gained from tourist info that there were no trains from there to Italy.

I pushed the bike about 200m and then saw a tunnel that offered at least some rest. However, the closer I got the better I could see the ‘no cycles’ sign and it wasn’t a short tunnel, I could just zoom through. The tunnel dipped away between two hills and my path was up those hills. In fairness it was a short climb and shallow enough to ride. A sign told me I was at the top of Mt Genevre. It was downhill all the way to Italy!

The last big climb before the long run down to Italy

I started off coasting along happily. I had some idea that the road sign indicating the border was ahead at the end of a tunnel. I had Google Earthed it. Along the way I had imagined the pictures I would take, bike held aloft and a beaming grin. It was going to happen in the next few minutes. I passed a road check point and set the GoPro to record the whole thing. I wasn’t feeling as well as I wanted the pictures to depict but I could blag that for the record of my achievement. The road was smooth and I whisked along awaiting the tunnel to start. It didn’t, in fact the first sign I had that I was in Italy was a road side cafe with an Italian flag. I stopped and checked the map. Sure enough I was already in Italy. No big fanfare, no pics and no one to celebrate with, but I did have a big grin on my face as I slumped over the handlebars telling the camera that I’d made it. Me, my old bike and little else had got me there. It was a strange sensation of sickness and pride. I cycled on and found a roundabout that had a sign saying Italy. I took a few pics and later edited out the graffiti. Back on the bike I zipped off downhill and coasted down the Italian side of the mountain. It was a beautiful road to ride amongst exquisite scenery. The road levelled out after about ten minutes of effortless coasting. I came to a roundabout that said Oulx was 10km in one direction and in the other direction, about 50m away was a lovely looking hotel. I was really torn, I couldn’t face any more uphills but Oulx had what I needed. I decided to try for Oulx but vowed to come back at the first sign of a difficult hill. The cycle God’s were with me and I hardly pedelled at all, before I knew it I was in the town of Oulx and it did have trains to various parts of Italy. Tomorrow I would take back those lost days.