Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Coasts and Cols Tour - Final Numbers and Photo Essay

Numbers aren't everything; but when combined with pictures, and context, they tell a story.

The 'Coasts and Cols' Tour was the hardest multi-day ride I have ever ridden. It was the biggest riding 'set' that I have ever completed. It was an achievement; an experience, and a challenge. It was also, crucially, a beautiful and enjoyable journey.

Here are some of the key metrics from the trip; accompanied by my favourite photo from each of the twelve days away from home.

94 hrs 20 mins    - Total Riding Time

1933 kilometres  - Total Distance Ridden

28,629 metres     - Total Elevation Climbed

Every kilometre and every metre climbed holds a little story. Below is a montage of memories.

Photo Essay

Day 0 - 'Rolling Out'

The trip begins. I sit on the deck of the ferry, sipping a cold beer. We head out into the English Channel - bound for Spain, the mountains, and the unknown.

Day 1 - 'First Pedal Strokes'

Ferry delayed by a Force 10 storm; I roll out of Santander a little later than planned. Up in the hills, with the first 40 kilometres on the clock, I find my first wild camp. The tour is underway.

Day 2 - Heading Southeast Into Spain

Point south and east - through the Basque country, towards Pamplona. Find the first Cols, and the first gravel roads. See the clock tick over 200 kilometres, for the first time of many this trip.

Day 3 - 'Descending Frozen To France'

The day starts in Spanish sunshine, and I tick through the kilometres with ease, as I head into the Pyrenees. By late afternoon though, the skies are darkening; as I begin my ascent of the Port de Larrau - the pass between Spain and France, the heavens open. From the summit, I descend as fast as I can to a French hotel; warm myself with Chocolat Chaud, then set up camp in the valley.

Day 4 - The Pyrenees Proper

The day begins with a little more rain, and a damp ascent of the Col de Marie Blanque. From there, it is onward into the heart of the mountains, and the major climb of the Col d'Aubisque. Half way up the climb, I stop to warm myself in a café; the original plan for the day was to also conquer the Col du Tourmalet, but the owner warns me of snow and subzero temperatures by the time I get there. I revert to my Plan B - I descend the Aubisque to the Col du Soulor, then continue down to Luz Saint Sauveur, and check into a campsite for some 'home comforts'. Tourmalet tomorrow.

Day 5 - The Mountain Marathon

The Tourmalet before coffee time - I needed the coffee to warm up, as it was snowing and 5 degrees at the summit. Then, onwards to the Col d'Aspin, then the Peyresourde; then in the fading light, the Col de Menté. Descending off the Menté, I'm looking for a spot to camp; I've actually ascended the majority of the Col de Portet d'Aspet too, before I eventually stop for the night. 5,500 metres of climbing on the clock.

Day 6 - Descent From The Pyrenees

Sunshine and speed, as I head south out of The Pyrenees. A welcome rest day ahead, I pedal through the day, with the warmth of The Corbieres beckoning.

Day 7 - Rest. Relaxation. Reflection.

After a great meal, a shower, and a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed, I feel revived. Gus and I head out for an easy 60 on the pedals, to turn the legs over. The remainder of the day is spent chatting, walking and reflecting on Part 1 of the trip. Cassoulet in Carcassonne for dinner. Perfect.

Day 8 - The Vineyards of Bordeaux

Time for Leg 2 of the 'Coasts and Cols' tour. I ride the first 50 kilometres to Carcassonne with Gus; then bid him a fond farewell, as I head north. Over the Montagne Noir, and into the vineyards of Bordeaux. The day in spent in glorious sunshine; feasting on road-side figs, pears and plums. 240 kilometres by sun-down.

Day 9 - Mishaps and Missed Targets

The day starts well, and I pick up the Canal Midi towpath, which I'm set to ride on for 135 kilometres! However, before noon I've already succumbed to three punctures; then, after lunch, disaster strikes - with a double tyre sidewall failure. After a trip to the local bike shop, and with two new tyres and tubes fitted, I'm eventually back on the road; I fall short of my mileage target for the day, though.

Day 10 - The Atlantic Coast

I leave my overnight camp near Bourg, as early as the daylight allows. Before long I have reached the Atlantic coast at Royan; I celebrate seeing seagulls, with pastries and coffee. From Royan to La Rochelle, then onward to Rochefort. I finish the day by crossing into the Vendée region - the land of windfarms and pastures.

Day 11 - The Giant Northwards Push

With many miles still to cover, to reach St. Malo, and my ferry home; this penultimate day is set to be a mega one. From Vendée, I head over the Loire river, and then north, north, north - on a B-line to the English Channel. The day finishes in the beautiful Bretagne region, and by 10pm, and with 272 kilometres on the speedometer, I set up my final camp - just 40 kilometres from St. Malo.

Day 12 - Dawn Arrival

The slight drizzle and dark skies that accompanied my 5am start, have cleared by the time I reach St. Malo. The ferry home is there waiting - the journey is complete; and what an incredible journey it has been! I celebrate with coffee and my last patisserie visit. Then, I board the ferry, and have a long awaited shower and sleep.

Coasts and Cols. Storms and Sunshine. Mountains and Flatland.

Experiences. Challenges. Adventure... an incredible ride.

View the complete collection of #coastsandcols images on Instagram (Link)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 12 - 'The Dawn Finale'

My alarm woke me at 5am. Having scoffed most of my remaining food last night, I munched down a stray banana, and stuffed my sleeping bag away for the last time this trip.

Rain was pattering the tent lightly, as I packed it up, and then rolled out of camp. 40 kilometres to cover; to reach St. Malo, the ferry home, and a hot shower.

The rain had abated by the time I reached Dinan, and the last 25 kilometres up the river were on deserted roads, in the gradually building light.

I rolled to a stop at the top of the hill above St. Malo. Looking out over the English Channel, I reflected on the trip; I'd come to my final coast of the 'Coasts and Cols' tour...

What an incredible journey it's been. From the mountains and plains of northern Spain; to the challenging weather and climbs of the Pyrenees. From a rest day with good friends in The Corbieres; followed by a northbound few days of mile clocking, through Bordeaux, Vendée, The Loire Valley and then Bretagne. Changing landscapes, and changing challenges; a real test of bike, body, kit, and mind.

Reflecting on the above, I rolled down the hill to the walled city of St. Malo. I grabbed my last pastries and coffee, and I took the compulsory 'Bike Against A Wall' shot. Then, I boarded the boat, and had the longest shower in my memory.

The 'Coasts and Cols' is complete. What will be next?

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 11 - 'The Northwards Charge'

Bike touring never ceases to amaze me. You can see so much, and travel so far; all under your own steam (or rather, a constant supply of pastries).
Today was all about covering as much ground as possible; in order to get as close to St. Malo as I could, before tomorrow morning's ferry home.

From my finish near to Les Sables d'Olonne last night though, there was still a good 180 miles to cover to get to St. Malo. I had gone to bed praying for a tailwind...

Luckily, as I woke amongst the wind farms of Vendée, I was pleased to see the previous day's north westerly wind, which had made things such hard work on the open flats, had swung round to the south. Time to get romping!

I've been behind on my planned mileage since my mishaps on Day 9 (scroll back through the blog posts to have a read of the day's events, if you haven't already); and so I wasn't starting today from my intended spot, nor would I be following my intended route. In the words of my CCF days: 'B-Lining it Boys', was the name of the game, i.e. take the most direct bearing line to you destination. With no GPS map to follow as a result, I was using my large scale national map of France for routing; and then going on bearings and gut instinct - 'if it goes north, it's probably the right road'.

Tailwind in full swing, I was making good progress by lunchtime, and had reached the Loire river. What I thought was a bridge, turned out to be a ferry; no matter though, it gave me enough time to enjoy my fresh baguette and emmental from the local market.

Post-river crossing, and with a stomach full, I got on with some head-down riding in the mid afternoon. Laying my elbows on the tops, and tempted to rest my chin on my handlebar bag, I was chomping through the distance. The prospect of getting close to Dinan (my target for the day), seemed suddenly possible.

The afternoon went on, and I went from the Loire region into Bretagne - one of my favourite parts of France. I stopped for a pastry pick-me-up. I also grabbed a huge tin of cassoulet; which I strapped to my seatpack, keen not to be caught out by the early shop closures (again!).

The sun was going down, and the speedometer showed 230 kilometres, by the time I was properly into the Bretagne hills. My legs, and mind, were dulling; but I knew I had little choice but to keep pedalling. Lights on, and with handful of apples from a nearby tree, I adopted my Day 5 (read the post) patented 'Apple Technique'.

By 21:00, with 172 clicks recorded, I was about spent; luckily I was also just a stone throw from Dinan. I set up camp for the final time this trip, then had another (the fourth day running) baby wipe shower (yes, my feet stink!); then cooked my mega cassoulet.

France, you are a special, diverse and challenging landscape to cover 'en vélo'. Tomorrow will be a very early start, as I still have 40km to do before breakfast time. The final assault... *crawls into sleeping bag, and collapses*.