I guess there’s something in it when people say it’s a better after dinner story when you endure hardship and don’t quite finish an adventure regarded as being extremely tough. So in this case I ride thousands of kilometres across Europe, everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at me in terms of hardship only to fall short when the finish line is almost in sight. That’s a proper story, legends are made of those that endure but don’t quite make it…yes? As valiant as it sounds, the bottom line is that by falling short, for whatever reason, it invariably means you’ve got to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and give it another shot. Damm I didn’t want to do that!
This race was only ever meant to be a one off, get it done, put it to bed and move on, the problem is these things never seem to be that simple, and why should they be? My only goal was to make the ‘finish party’ in a little over 14 days. Anything beyond that was really of no interest. My remaining holiday entitlement was for elsewhere. Early on, this time at least, I knew it was out of reach, in fact making my flight the following day was in jeopardy too. I’m not one for hunting vain glory, the game was up far before illness struck, the hospital visit just made it an easy decision to scratch. There’s always another time.
In the end things worked out fine, by ending up in hospital I didn’t really lose anything, yes my pride was hurt but in consolation my insurance covered my repatriation and at the same time I managed to recover my initial flight outlay. The good thing is I got home safe, well and healthy and as a token I was also part of a great adventure cycling across Europe. I learnt many valuable lessons about the race and myself, I guess that’s what’s important. So yes I’m a little disappointed with the end result, there were no celebrations when I got home, but as I’ve already said I’ll get over it, move onto other things and be back stronger and better prepared next year.
Focusing the blur
The day before the race I turned 56 years of age, my age makes me begin to realise I’m not exactly a spring chicken…after all I am a granddad 3 times over!! At my age things tend to happen in a blur, when I try to unravel events they usually remain that, I’m not sure I’m able to recount my experiences of every yesterday. But the highs and lows really do stick. Dot watching, although your with us in support and spirit it only tells part of the story.
Getting to Mont Ventoux
I set myself a challenging target of reaching Bedoin at the foot of Mont Ventoux on the Monday morning, around 60 hours for a little over 600 miles. Maybe an ascent up to control 1 late morning was a tad ambitious but nevertheless it was something to aim for.
The first day I managed to ride 255 miles and followed it up the next day with a little under 240 miles. Probably my two biggest days back to back ever! Problem is 21,000ft of climbing (not including climbing Mont Ventoux) didn’t really help, it was more than I expected and I found it pretty tough going. The weather the evening we set off was pleasant, very mild actually, I really enjoyed the ride through the first night. There was rain in the air and I was caught in a short heavy downpour as I crossed the border into France but it was that mild I didn’t bother donning the waterproof. That was the only time during the whole 2 weeks I considered putting it on. It wasn’t helped by the fact that it disappeared off the top of my pack somewhere crossing Italy. A bit of a bummer that, it cost me £150 and it also had my lumi-vest wrapped up inside it! I bivid at the top of an hill in a small copse just outside Tonnerre after feeding in a McDonalds Saturday evening. I’d split my route down into around 120 mile tracks so the plan was to try and get into the second one each day. First day I got through the two so was reasonably satisfied. I had a couple of hours sleep then got back on the road. Sunday I started suffering with the dozes so found myself having to kip an hour here and there roadside.
This bivying lark isn’t all fun!
The climbing throughout Sunday didn’t really stop, the terrain was challenging to say the least. I turned my mobile on during the day and received a couple of texts messages of support and also encouragement, I couldn’t believe how emotional I got even though it was only the second day. Riding in solitude does funny things to you. As darkness fell Sunday evening I was still climbing, I was 30 miles short of where I wanted to be and my allocated sleep time had been consumed riding, so I was now quite a way behind schedule. At about an hour before midnight enough was enough, I decided to bivy. I was in a forest, I simply popped down a track out of sight and set up. It was probably the most restless nights sleep I’ve ever had. As I set up I could hear dogs barking and howling in the distance. I thought to far to bother me. As I settled in my bivy bag the wind must have been blowing my scent in their direction and the dogs were getting more and more agitated. I considered moving on but as I was settled I thought ‘sod it’. About 10 minutes later all I could hear was a pack of angry hounds crashing through the woods heading in my direction, as though they’d been unleashed. I sat up in my bivy and thought…shite! Better to do something so I screamed ‘git outta ere’ using my best Ray Winston impression! With that the dogs stopped at the periphery of my vision and just started circulating, the growling was deep, sounded like big dogs. I could just make out the grey colour of one. A bit of a stand off and some strutting ensued, I was checking all areas readying for a charge, I shouted ‘git outta ere’ again and suddenly they turned tail and headed back into the forest, amazingly after that it all fell silent. About 10 minutes later I heard a noise on the track right in front of me. I opened the hood and peered out of my bivy and saw this huge Rottweiler patrolling up and down the track. Bloody hell, I froze, held my breath, watched, then it just disappeared. A pretty scary moment and experience that, especially wrapped up in a bivy bag like I was in a strait-jacket! So that was the end of that, the hounds had gone, now the little creepies got to work. A night of rustling leaves as hidden creatures went about their night-time business, enough to drive anybody insane. The bloody things never stopped!!
I got back on the road about 4.00am, I simply couldn’t take anymore of the rustling. By about 7.30am I was on the 110 mile track that lead me to Mont Ventoux. The temperature was really starting to soar. On a dual carriage way with a good hard shoulder I managed to make good time.
As I rolled into Bedoin a little after 5.00pm I bumped into Simon and Jon, I was really pleased to see them, it was good to have them around, there’s something infectious about their characters, again the emotion started to well up but I managed to keep signs of it at bay…just! At times this loneliness thing was getting to me. After a quick drink we were then off to the summit. I’ve been up this climb before, the start can easily lead to an underestimation of how difficult it is. If you go to hard on the flatter section you’ll pay for it when you hit the dreaded forest. The forest section of Bedoin is almost mystical in nature. It just goes on and on, relentless, no views, no respite. 15kms! I pressed onto Chalet Reynard at my own pace passing a number of riders off their bikes pushing. There really isn’t anything you can do to help. Chalet Reynard was closed, I needed a toilet stop and when I finally got back on my bike I was cold, very cold. The weather report from the top was for fresh to strong winds, the upper sections into a strong headwind. It was particularly tough.
Get me off this mountain!
When I finally reached the summit I was eager to get my card punched and get back down, no time for dilly dallying. A quick photo, I then put on pretty much every piece of clothing I was carrying and made my way down. The top section was particularly hazardous into the strong gusting wind, I was relieved when I reached Chalet Reynard for a second time, I took the left turn then free wheeled all the way down to Sault to save getting too cold.
When the chips are down – just laugh!
I knew the ramp up to Sault would be a bit of a bugger to get up, but I managed it OK, probably due to hunger and the prospect of food. It was getting dark, everywhere was pretty much shut but for a pizza van. The wind was still blowing so I sat down at the base of the van just to get out of the wind, warm up and compose myself after the experience of the last few hours. I hadn’t eaten in quite a while and really did need something. In hind sight I should have eaten in Bedoin, I guess the euphoria of meeting other riders blew that out of the window. When I did finally go to order I couldn’t believe they had shut shop right under my nose and were closing up, I did however manage to get a can of coke out of them, some consolation! It just goes to show, when it comes to food, get it while you can! Fortunately rider 46 Christopher Bennett had already got his pizza and offered to share it with me, what a gentleman, I duly obliged. Christopher…you were a man sent from heaven, thank you! I then pushed my bike up to a bar that was still open and sat outside, before long there was a gaggle of riders at the bar, including Simon and Jon, story’s were exchanged and all their had a bit of a giggle. You can’t help but laugh in the face of hardship. A couple of riders managed to get a room for the night, and a few others decided to push on farther. Simon and Jon opted to bivy in the first suitable place just out of town so I decided to tag along. A row of three benches were very appealing and that was us for the night. The wind blew throughout, so I dropped onto the ground at the base of a two foot wall. That was me out of the wind and out for the count.