Friday, August 26, 2011

PBP - the aftermath

Nearly 48 hours after crossing the finish line, seems like I should be able to string together some sentences about the ride. But 80 hours is a long time to try and summerise, even allowing for the 9 that were spent sleeping!

We've been so fortunate to do some amazing rides this year, all so different from the challenges of touring south America, the set backs and rescheduling to qualify for PBP, the highs and lows of the Alps of La Marmotte, and now completing our first 1200km Brevet with the granddaddy of them all, PBP. So many different special memories from them all; here's a few that will set this one apart.

The sheer numbers on PBP is staggering. It's similar in size to Marmotte, but many times bigger in the number of volunteers and passersby who support it. And staggering around and sports hall at 3am with every corner covered in comatose bodies, you get more of a feel for just how large it is.

Going into the third day of a Brevet we had little idea what to expect. Truth be told I realise now I've only ever tolerated the second day of a 600 as a necessary pain to make the first day count, and feared day 3 would be more of the same. But how wrong! It was simply a most wonderful day out on the bike. We had glorious weather, great cycling terrain, enjoyable company, I felt great on the bike. It just all seemed to come together just when we needed it the most.

Amongst thousands others, strangely one most memorable moment was Monday night at Carhaix. By 9pm we'd been awake for 36 hours and on the bike for at least 24 of them, so were keen to get some kip asap. Scoffing second dinner before retiring to our crash space, I persuaded Emma to take a quarter of an orange. In a weary attempt to eat it speedily, she chewed into the whole lot, wedging the skin between lips and gums like an orange clown grin. Chuckling, I did the same, and then for a time we were both left helpless in fits of laughter directed at each other's silly face - but the laughing itself was painful due to the fruit filling our faces! No idea what the other exhausted audaxers sat about us made of all this - or if they were even conscious enough of their surroundings to notice - but we it really did mark the difference for us between a three day ordeal it could have been, and the silliness and fun we added to make it so much more enjoyable.

Unfortunately the efforts of the final 150km took their toll on my right ankle, and I developed the exact symptoms of pain and inflammation Emma had a month ago. Likely a sympathetic injury caused by overcompensating for her pedaling weakspot. Since returning from the event I've not left the campsite, and can barely hobble to the bar and back! Lots of ice and rest and massage is helping it recover, so tomorrow we still intend to start our ride back home. I have no regrets as it's been such an amazing week.  And fortunately pedaling is a lot less painful than walking as I can do it with less ankle effort, and of course on the tandem I have another pair of legs helping too!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Following our progress on PBP

Here is the start line webcam, see if you can spot us! (We set off at 5.30pm Sunday 21st)

Also remember if all goes well our progress through the controls can be followed on the Official PBP frame tracker. Use frame numbers:- Emma: 6479 Joth: 6480 (yes, we get separate frame numbers even though we're on the same bicycle!)

Hopefully the map in the top-right corner of blog will auto-update from Latitude, and of course we will occasionally be tweeting too.

Think that should cover it!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Final preparation for PBP

Just three days until we set off for Paris Wednesday night, but still just over a week until we start riding the event itself (5.30pm next Sunday).

Spent yesterday doing the final bike maintenance tasks: new chain, new tyres, installed the phone charging gadgetry which will hopefully allow us to send tweets throughout the 90 hours of riding.
Last night we sorted out our route down to Newhaven, loaded Steve's route to Paris onto the GPS, and double checked the route files I'd already installed for the ride itself.

Today we need to have a test-pack of the luggage, to make sure we can actually carry it all on Katina (our randonneuring tandem).  We managed (just about) with a tent too back in April, so it should be OK. Fortunately we've got a place in Paris throughout the event where we can leave the panniers and clothing we won't need on the ride itself. 

On Tuesday we've both booked to see our respective Physios for any final manipulations, and Wednesday evening we head off to catch the 11pm ferry from Newhaven. Cycling straight down from Emma's work (Crawley) as it's quite easy for me to get a train to there from my work (Victoria).

Thursday and Friday are a gentle ride down from Dieppe, due in Paris Friday afternoon. Saturday is for relaxation (aka panicing) and any final adjustments and then Sunday we start.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ride notes from Marmotte 2011

Riding back from lantern rouge on La Marmotte: my assorted recollections. I'm still far too shattered to attempt real sentences.

Only finally decided to ride it Friday morning, as Emma's cold had improved. Plan to ride first Col (Glandon) and make call there whether to continue.

Crossed start line 7.09. Good progress to base of climb, not involved in pace line like last year but still fast running. Climb over lower dam and first half of glandon in middle ring, then deployed super-granny for the second part up to summit, 2000ish meters.

From Marmotte 2011

Both felt good, climbing well, decision is to continue over to back valley : commit to 2600m more climb to get home.

Hectic at top, Emma grabs water while I push bike through crowds. Start descent. Emma is unpacking some food, lots of bikes about, sharp hairpins and narrow roads. Make 3 switchbacks, then disaster begins. Bang! Phffffft! Front wheel flat. Stop bike without spilling. Clear out the way of masses. Tyre off eventually (no tyre levers! Forgotten when swapping seat packs the previous night.) Rim tape is split. Only fitted that tape yesterday. Would have been better to leave the old suspect tape from previous weekend!

What to do? Not carrying spare rim tape. Nor is any of the other sportive riders who we ask as they puncture about us. (Saw at least 5)

Use blunt screwdriver to cut up failed innertube and improvise rim tape repair. New tube in. Somehow damaged the valve closer attempting to inflate. Maybe fixed it? Continue gingerly down. 2 switchbacks and slipping about : this one is flat - pinched tube refitting tyre. Final spare tube in. Flat after couple more corners: glue has failed to stick prior patching properly. Patch other  tube, but valve now definitely dodgy not sure it will hold. Running out of CO2 cartridges now too, and 1 of the 3 I packed was a dud.

Set off again: sound of metal death from rear brake. Disc pads have worn right out with all the slow descending.  And front brake blocks have glazed with heat and juddering badly.

No brakes. No innertubes. No rim tape. No tyre levers or gas.

Decided to abandon. Send tweet. Sit on verge, watch streams of bikes pass. A chap stops, he's after a CO2 cartridge - can't do as our last is already fitted in the pump, but I use last of it to get him going again. Emma gives him a couple gels too as he'd dropped his.

Settle in for long wait for sag wagon, for the long ride home. Spot marshal, go and ask him when it would be (explaining bike bust). Question lost in translation : he says we must continue 2 or so km for mechanical assistance. OK, at least we'll be doing something that way.

Manage to use a combo of front and parking brakes to control our way down. Spot the mechanic's car just as front tyre gives out again.

He has no tubes left. He has no disc brake parts. Borrow pliers and use to re-run the brake cables so we have two rim brakes. That massive disc is now just dead weight. Rear V brake not setup for drop levers, very mushy to use, but better than nothing.

Mechanic has rim tape, fits that. Fresh glue under failed patch. Fix other valve with some gentle plier love.

The final riders pass us by, mechanic is just packing up to finish.  We must be the last bike of the 6000+ to leave glandon.

Cautiously test out front wheel and new brake setup on final swooping bends, slowly some confidence is returning.  Turn out at bottom to the back valley road. Marshals point the way but look ready to head home. Like us. We're just cycling back to camp now. At least, until we're caught by a sag bus.

Tailwind on the rolling back valley road. Holding 24kmph on the ups, soon see the back markers. They are definitely struggling. Whoosh! We're no longer last on the road.  Then pass another. A few more. A whole team of cyclists from the Loire valley. Things are looking up, but what about the two cols to come?

Telegraph in 1pm heat. Tough work, but such a beautiful view as you climb we soon found a twiddling rhythm and plugged away at it. Passed as many solos as we were passed by. We're climbing OK then. But saw many packed riders at base of climb waiting by the two sag wagon buses. Will they catch us?

1 hour we're at the top. Refill water, on into Valloire.  Draggy climb out the other side hits us hard. See food station and decide it's time for lunch. Oranges, bananas, sugary sweets, cake, dried fruit, Camembert, in no particular order.

Plan Lachat long time coming, ramps seem steeper than last year. Stop for coke at cafe, to wash down a gel. Now for galibier proper; everything before was just the prologue.

Feel good in low gear on the tough first ramp, but it's still a long grind. Weather so much better than last time Emma cycled here - before marmotte last year - helps lift spirits. And then : "Hummers woz ere!". "Go Things"! YAY! Still just visible on the road from last year.

We are going to ride back into this. If we can just make the summit by 5pm maybe we have a chance?

Galibier is without equal. Dig deep and then deeper. Many people walking now. We have low gears and Randonneurs' backsides. Keep spinning, keep spinning.

Pass the place we were chased by a dog last year. Lots of support from passing cars, spectators, other riders. Some ask or feign complaint it must be easier on tandem. Emma swiftly re-educates them.

Now we see the summit of the pass. Road winding to it, then final 5 switchbacks including the steepest grades of the event. Another gel brings on sugary reduced oxygen high. We're shouting 7 shades of nonsense at each other as we pass the photo call and mount the final few ramps. Other riders seem bemused, but caught in their own turmoil.

From Marmotte 2011

Crest the top. 2646m above the sea. All down hill to our campsite now, should we wish!

5mins to refill water and put on more clothes. Start descent with exactly 10.00 hours on the clock. So it's 5.09pm.

Top switchbacks are little short of terrifying. Go too slow: we overheat rims and Bang! Go too fast and we may never stop until the valley floor. Front brake still judders at low speed, rear still very soggy. Make myself as large as possible for wind braking. We're still hammering past every other bike on the road, and any car we see too. There it is.

Reach Col du Lautaret. Smooth straight roads now, less severe grades. Good! Relax slightly, try and reduce pain in back and shoulders and neck from all that braking.

Eat, descend, drink, descend. Eat more. Still passing bikes by the dozens. Tandeming heaven.

Eventually: 5km to Bourg sign. Decision required. "How's that famous stubbornness of yours holding up Emma?"
"Surprisingly well!"

That's it. We're going to try to complete. Finish the gels. Cadge a toe into the control. It's 6.20, can we still continue?

No stopping: over the timing mat, ignore the fellow hollering that Tandems may already be out of time. Hit Alpe D'Huez. 21 switchbacks between us and glory. Or food, at least.

First 4 ramps are the steepest and longest. Count them off as we crawl up.

La Garde: plan was to get water here and recoupe. Still OK for water, Emma says keep going to the next water point. OK.

Cold weather clothes removed without stopping - Emma can deal with them with two hands. Passing as many walking as cycling now, but still sometimes we are passed by someone going at full-tilt, probably bursting between rests. Hare and tortoise. Although 'Hare' is generous by this stage.

9 more switchbacks to Huez village. Some short, but still takes forever. This is the bulk of the climb. Eventually get there, stop for water. Summit of Galibier to Huez without rest, has taken a bit over 2 hours.

I keep walking as Emma fills bottles, she jumps back on and we're off again. 6 turns to go, then final mile through Alpe d'huez itself. A man unexpectedly hands us a bottle of energy drink as we pass him, receives heartfelt "Merci!" in reply.

Everything hurts. Just need to keep turning pedals and we'll get there. Audax England jerseys are a big success: loads of support from all, and especially the Brits.

From Marmotte 2011

Through the town, GPS clock rolls over to 13.00 hours. Missed chance to complete in under 13. Too bad. Lets just finish. Broom wagon passes us, collecting signs. Still must be hundred bikes on road behind us though...

Final 300m is downhill, quickly gather astonishing tandem velocity and pass over finish mat at 20.09! Cheering lost as we climb off, grab drinks and a well earned hug!

After feeding and collecting our certificate, now how to get back to campsite? Don't want to trust our bodged brakes down 12 km of sharp hairpins, but it's getting too dark and cold to hang about looking for an alternative.

We set off. Do 4 corners, wait a bit to let rims cool. 4 more, wait again. Start to walk as we wait: trying to stop ourselves get too cold or the rims too hot!

A minibus passes us, then halts. We wave, and it reverses back up. It contains 2 supporters, one bike and a rider, but enough space and soft padding for a fleet of tandems! They offer a lift we say yes please without hesitation. Just to the foot of the alpe would be fine, but when they offer to take us back to campsite I can't refuse. In exchange we explain to them the location of three pizzerias in Bourg, along with their relative merits. They're happy they will get dinner, we're happy to be safely back at our tent and collapse to sleep. Ready for the 6am rise to start the journey back home....

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Photos from NL & Alps

Here's a few photos from the last few days (not very well editted yet but nevermind)

Merseleo Venray 600 brevet

Joth climbing Col de l'Iseran (highest paved road pass in Europe)

... now off for an evening climb of Alpe d'Huez! Or at least, to a restaurant part way up it.
Collected our frame number today, but not yet decided if we'll be riding it. Emma's cold still isn't 100% gone and the pressure changes on these climbs isn't helping with blocked sinouses.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Merselo-Venray 600; overseas brevet

It was never in our original plans to do an overseas Brevet prior to PBP, but plans change and so we found ourselves signing in at the start of the Merselo-Venray Netherlands 600.
The trip over the previous night had been fairly smooth apart from a 2 hour jam around Antwerp, which meant we'd had a quick camp meal and put up the tent to sleep by 11. The start the following morning was not until 8am, and it was less than 2km up the road to get to the start point - easy to do as it was in a windmill!
The field was made up of over a half Germans, the remainder Dutch save for ourselves - so we got a fair bit of conversation as it doesn't seem that usual to get Brits riding over here.
Another interesting difference for us was the high number recumbent machines, and even one other tandem, but no fixed gear cycles, very different to the average UK Brevet. The other tandem couple had bought their bike specifically to qualify for and ride PBP on, the chap being a PBP veteran but the lady having no prior long distance cycling experience so quite an impressive undertaking.
The first stage went quick quickly, we fell in with a group of 4 quite fast riders and did quite a good job taking it in turns at the lead, heading west into a south westerly headwind. This became a little less fun once the drizzle turned to rain, and all the disadvantages of our companions' lack of mudguards became apparent in the form of splattered road dirt in the face!
We also had multiple instances of missing junctions. Despite at least two of the group carrying GPS units, they seemed to be relying on us to do the navigating. An interesting experience! It was very useful to be able to ride with a group at the start of the ride, as we got to see how the compulsory use of cyclepaths works, and see how the natives ride.
By the time we reached the first control at 98km, we were ready for a break though. Having not eaten a great deal of breakfast, we opted for a pair of lovely omelettes while the rest of the group had coffee and so set off a few minutes ahead of us. Another large group of riders arrived just as we were heading out into the headwind of the next stage.
We passed in and out of Belgium a couple times on our way to the Vlissingen peninsula, crossing land borders mid audax being another novelty for us. Only later did we realise we strictly should have been carrying our passports; this was the first real time I'd ever have found an official national ID card to be far more convenient.
The middle third of the ride headed north-east along the coast conveniently having a strong wind on our backs for much of it. The numerous estuary outlets along the coast create many peninsulas that we hopped between, via some most impressive bridges. Without exception these had great provisions for cyclists, just like the roads and well signposted paths between them, so navigation was easy here and progress good. The scenery here was some of the most varied of the two days, and often quite unlike anything we're used to from home, such as riding along the top or side of the extensive dyke network; riding through dedicated cycling roads winding over banks of dunes; or atop a sea wall looking out over literally hundreds of kite surfers pulling tricks on the waves.
Unfortunately the rain had turned the one lightly gravelled track we rode into muddy porridge, and shortly after our front tyre gave in and punctured (the rear having already failed on the Invicta 600 a fortnight before and been replaced before this ride). We then had a good hour of Murphy Law bicycle repair: both spare tubes were defective, the spare tyre wouldn't seat properly and took a couple inflations, I managed to put the tyre on backwards (FWIW), and assorted related faffage. Quite a few riders we'd seen at previous controls passed us in this period, and defined the position we'd ride the remainder of the ride in. So as it got dark we met up with a group of 4 we'd spend most the night riding with and see on and off to the end: a couple Germans (Gert and ?) and two Dutch including Jan, the ride organiser, on his high wheeled recumbent. This was extremely fortunate as it made navigation through the dark so much easier. Also Jan ensued we had no trouble answering the lone info control, although the excellent English translation crib sheet he'd prepared for us beforehand meant it was trivial for seasoned UK riders like us to answer anyway (quite unlike the UK audax tradition, this ride was apparently rather controversial in daring to have an info control at all!).
The misty rain continued most of the night, and made the 4am dawn a very grey drab affair. As it gathered enough light to read the route sheet by, we reached the northern most point and turned southeast to cross the dyke to Lelystad. At over 27km in length this is a serious construction, and in the bleak dawn twilight, and stiff headwind, and a view of nothing but sea to our left and dyke to our right, this felt a most challenging undertaking - perhaps the most of the whole ride. It's not without its reward though: from now on, whenever we look at a map of Holland, we will see that dyke across the bay and remember our tour of the country.
I had been feeling tired for a while, a short power-nap prior to crossing the dyke had clearly not solved this, so on reaching mainland we sought out a sheltered spot for a proper doze. The marina outside Lelystad was geared up for a regatta, with lots of tents setup for sales displays and  catering. The fancier of these had security guards stood around, looking bored at 6am on a Sunday morning and slightly bemusedly at the slow trickle of weary Randonneurs arriving off the causeway. We pushed on a soon spotted a party cafe/bar with overflow gazebo to one side that made a dry and sheltered spot to lie down. I managed 40mins kip, but Emma was put off by the stale beer smell (which I was too tired to notice!) and so sat and rested outside it for most that time. I probably could have pushed on without sleep and got through the doziness, but my body needed the break and most of all the mind needed the switch off, before being able to find the motivation for another full day's riding.
Later that morning the sun finally made an appearance, as we started the climb into the forested area past Apeldoorn. This made beautiful cycling with the warm sun dappled through the wet leaves and shining on the smoothly paved forest bike paths. We must have ridden for 50 or more km through the forest, the majority on these dedicated paths, which was another complete change from UK brevets. For the most part they were smooth and wide so we could make good progress along them, although towards the end they did become rather tracky and unpaved, and suffering after all the rain.
Midafternoon we had a free control in Nijmegen, which offered a great chance to get our first hot meal in 24hrs, at a pasta restaurant on the busy promenade beside the river. Then all that remained was a 65km weave into and out of Germany and back to the arrivee. It had turned out a warm clear evening as we approached the village of Merselo, spying the  windmill whilst still a couple km away a leading us in to complete the ride, and finally complete our PBP qualification.
Looking back, I will remember many things about this ride. The great warm welcome we received from Jan both by email and when we arrived and rode with him. Spending over 90% of a 600k ride on cycle lanes and paths, which for the vast majority were just as good if not better than the road alternative. Crossing more bridges and following more dykes than I thought possible in the distance - and two ferry crossings to boot! National miller's day meaning all the traditional windmills were working away. Visiting our first secret control - in the garden of the vice president of Randonneurs Mondiux! Stopping at the halfway control in a pub at 11pm and finding our German friends drinking bottles of cold beer - alcohol free! Watching Jan's friend eat a whole bree as a snack at 2am, confirming our belief randonneurs are much alike the continent over.  And much besides...
Yes, overseas brevets - even unplanned ones - can be great fun!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Invicta 600 Audax, 11/12 June

I wrote most of this over a week ago, but never got around to posting it. Better late than never!

The Audax Men in Black were working overtime last Sunday (the 12th). Normally it takes until at least a few hours after a long ride for the memory of the pain to start to recede and the satisfaction to tempt you into enjoying the thought of the next one.
Not so this weekend. After approximately 620km of a non-stop (if only varying in intensity) subconscious train of thought enumerating all the ways in which I was not enjoying myself, it was with the final 15km of dragging through the rain that I suddenly realised that, actually, yes I would be doing it all again next weekend. Clearly those Men in Black hang out in Tunbridge Wells on their day off, or something.
The ride started out pretty average. A 4am alarm call had us in the car well before 5, and and so the tandem was unloaded and we were happily slurping tea in Seven Oaks Weald scout hut before most of the field rolled up. The route was more or less the same as we had completed 2 years ago, as our first ever 600. One significant difference was the start point had moved down the road from Otford, and this presented the first shock: climbing up Glebe road to join the previous route is quite a brutal way to start out a ride, and within a few hundred meters we were down in the lowest of our "super granny" gears; one of only three outings for her all weekend.
At 16km we had our next concern - a flat rear tyre before we'd even reached Otford. This can either signify a pure random occurrence, or the beginning of the end of a Gatorskin tyre were it has been known to pull itself appart in just a few hundred kms. With over 400 to go before we returned to the HQ and our spare, we wondered if we'd made an error. Fortunately things picked up after that and we were able to settle into a better rhythm for the first few stages.
I was now able to make some observations about how the body was looking like it would hold up to the challenge. I knew from our previous weekend's extremely enjoyable if quite tough 200km in Wales - the enticingly titled Cambrian 2B - that I should now be able to manage the condition of my right knee. On occasion it would tingle or give a sudden twinge of pain, but not the slow creeping warmth building to a sustained hot pain I had before. And I when I notice it, I can concentrate on using my quads in a more controlled and applied manner, and it will subside. So, not 100% back to normal, but bearable, and under control.
More of a concern was the severe crick I'd put in my neck in the middle of last week, that severely restricted my range of head movement in all directions, and could be extremely uncomfortable. This was an unwelcome re-occurrence of an issue from last year that I'd seen an Osteopath about and thought was solved. Ironically, I think this round was set off by swapping to a new pillow I'd bought specifically bearing in mind said Osteopath's recommendations! (That being, to use a firm pillow that supports side sleeping). Don't change your pillow before a big bike ride. This pain in the neck came and went all through Saturday, but I was able to gradually work it out and loosen it up. The biggest gain came on Sunday though, when a mis-executed U-turn after a wrong turning resulted in us almost spilt across the road: the adrenalin rush was like no other remedy I've tried at loosening the muscle and removing the pain. Amazing, wish they could bottle that stuff.
Back to Saturday, we went through the motions of making our way around. The other big change from 2 years ago was a doubling of the number of "information" controls: it now boasts an unprecedented dozen of them. As I joked to Steve the organiser that it's part bike ride, part pub quiz.
We completed about 6 infos in the first half of Saturday's ride, thankfully giving a clear run back to the HQ without the need to find numbers on signposts in the dark. We managed to miss one heading into Petersfield and then miss the turning, going a small 10km out the way and then navigating back into town via the wrong approach meaning we missed the official control point too. This was the peak of faff for the day, and we left feeling a bit weary for it, and with - for us - the toughest stage of the day to come next. Dragging along the north "foothills" of the South Downs is indeterminable in distance in the twilight, and passes some wonderfully cozy pubs as it goes. It was here in 2009 we had to resolutely stare the other way and treat discussion of such hostelries as taboo, lest one of us should fold and we find ourselves abandoning for warm comforts. Not so this time: I brazenly pointed out to Emma that here we were again, and wouldn’t it be nice to just stop and let go all these crazy cycling PBP plans. And then something unexpected happened that defined the ride.
I had feared that since we broke our unblemished 100% finish rate last year, we might become soft to this. I’d managed to put the Mille Cymru DNF down as a one-off, and unavoidable as I was literally at the point that if we continued and my nose bled became any worse, we’d need to call an ambulance as breathing was getting problematic amongst the warm red rush down my throat. However, April’s second DNF, on the Brevet Cymru (see the pattern in the ride names yet?) was fully elective. Sure my knee was hurting, but at 30km it wasn’t that bad. We could have gone on until 150km and it became completely intolerable. Or who knows, perhaps it would have most improbably disappeared? Anyway, we’re now no strangers to just deciding to pack a ride as it’s not going right, and so maybe we can do it again. Maybe even make a habit of it...
Back to us on the road outside Amberly in the fading dusk, Emma replies: “Yes, we could. But I’d be very disappointed if we didn’t finish this ride”. There. She enunciated the other half of the unspoken contract we each hold the other too: if you give up, I have to give up too. I don’t know how solo riders get through their dark moments like this - even more so those most hardy folks who ride completely self organised (“DIY”) events of this distance. I don’t think I could do it. I know I don’t relish finding out. But on the tandem, there you have it: a partner to support, encourage, entertain, provide solace in these moments. And when necessary, employ guilt to bind you to continue. I was so grateful for it then, and only now realise how important this was.
We were glad to reach the Pyecombe A23 services, which proved to be a challenging shopping experience. It claimed 24 hours, but service window only and the man was not interested in serving the dozen riders coffees who had got there just before us. Oh that we’d been a little quicker on the previous stretch we’d not have been passed by them (for about the 7th time in our hare-and-tortoise progression that day) and got through before them. It turned out for the best though, as their de-facto group leader (alas we picked up no names) asked us if my GPS could confirm a more direct main road route to Turners Hill, avoiding some dark lane navigation at night. We know the route well enough from FNRTTC, and coupled with the GPS could led a good peloton up through Burge’s Hill and Hayward’s Heath.
At Turners Hill we let the group head on; we fancied a stop for a sandwich and felt we’d be happier completing the final stretch back to the night stop at our own pace. Reaching Sevenoaks Weald, just after 400km, was a very welcome sight just before 3am. We managed to not hang around grabbing some food and managed a good 3 hours of sleep in the back of our car. I had worried that it would be a cold night, but if it was I didn’t notice it sleeping solidly from the moment I hit my bed.
In contrast to twilight struggle past Amberly, there was never any question we would not set out again Sunday morning. It’s amazing just how recovered you can feel after a few hours sleep! This often seems to be the hardest part for folks - leaving the comfort of the hall and proximity of their car and heading out for a second day of riding, but I didn’t find it so bad: knowing you “just” need to ride a 200 to make the previous day’s 400 count seems a reasonable trade.
The early stretch out to Sittingbourne went without too much problem; we know this loop well from several prior rides so knew to expect the Stede Hill climb. The soup laid on there was as amazing as ever it was, and we were saddened to hear this is the final time the Phoenix Centre will be used as the controller is retiring to the North.
After that the day continued much as it had 2 years ago! Rolling terrain out to the Whitstable bay coast, interesting and old familiar sights as we went. A difficult to find info control at Reculvor (a question I’m sure we’d had before, but the cottage had changed name and no-one could find the correct answer!). Then the long drag over Wingham towards Ashford. At this point we were right into the headwind, and it started to spot with rain too, but we knew once we turned at Ashford we’d be on the home straight and with the wind behind us. We took a longer break at the Westenhanger services, knowing we had sufficient time in hand, and then indeed got a very pleasant tail wind most of the way back to the Arrivée, more than making up for the more persistent rain that set in as we worked our way back.
So it was likely this smooth run home that put me into elevated spirits, such that before even getting there I’d already changed my mind around fully and was starting to think through what needed doing to prepare for the following weekend’s 600.

As it turned out, Emma developed a cold in the following week, so we weren’t able to ride our final qualifier last weekend, and instead are now planning to head to the Netherlands for the Merselo-Venray 600 this weekend instead. But that’s a story for another day!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Knee recovery

It's been a while since 100km felt like such a great achievement, but the endorphin reward was no less for it! We managed a full 100k loop yesterday afternoon, out over the North Downs, and felt much better than I did doing a half-lap of Richmond Park as recently as Wednesday. My weekly Physio sessions had been progressing well enough, but Friday was something of a watershed; I'd been a bit disappointed by how, despite the noticeable improvement in patella tracking (less "clunking"), I was still not comfortable riding and so had't done as much as I'd hoped in the previous week. My physio however is now more fixated by the looming PBP qualifiers than I am -- I think the prospect of 600km ride is more daunting to her than me! -- but she did instill in me an appreciation of the need to build up some miles in the legs before diving in with my next big ride.

My two concerns going out for anything longer than my usual commute were that the knee discomfort would increase with distance to become distinct pain - and doing unknown damage, and that I would be frustrated in any goal to put out greater power output through a reward of more knee pain. Indeed this is what I'd found on the way to Wales a full month ago when the problem started, and which had been putting me off ever since: the further and harder I pedalled, the worse it got.

A small revelation had come on Saturday, when we'd made a short trip out to the pub for a friend's birthday. On the ride back home - slightly affected by the celebration beverages - I was more relaxed in position and less gingerly with the power, and I found that my knee was none the worse for it. Over the last fortnight I'd been spending much of my concentration on the relative position of knee and foot - as instructed by the physio - but not so much time considering the exact balance of muscle in use when putting out higher power. So on our longer ride yesterday I set out to thinking foremost about using my quads to the max, and about leg alignment as a secondary goal, and this appears to have made all the difference.
If at any point I found the twinge coming back to my knee, rather than ease back on the forces going through my knee I instead consciously pushed harder on the top of the pedal stroke, using my quads to their full, and the edge of pain would reliably recede. What a glorious discovery!

Certainly it is only though the physiotherapy that I've built up the correct balance in my quads, and can now at will choose to use the VMO to greater effect, that this surprise remedy of pushing harder to reduce pain is now available. What I believe is happening is whilst no longer clunking, when relatively relaxed the patella is still not tracking quite true, however when I squeeze on the VMO it pulls it fully into the channel in which it should move and run more freely. This led to a rather unusual situation that contrary to all received wisdom on the subject of knee care, we increasingly sought to push the biggest gear we could on flats and climbs; to give sufficient resistance to push against; rather than spinning in low gears.

Now I'll just have to see how this theory works on a longer ride.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Knee round 2: rehab

The Physiotherapy practice I am seeing,, have a slightly unusual setup in that their staff either specialise in remedial & manipulation, or in exercise & rehab. So today I had my second physio appointment today, this time with a rehab specialist.

After another short consultation, with a bit more time spent talking about bike setup and possible theories of what might have triggered my pain a fortnight ago, I did a bit of balancing on one foot and so forth, and immediately all sorts of ingrained problems in my posture, balance, and general being became very apparent. It turns out to stand on my right leg I twist my pelvis, throw my left foot across behind me, twist on my knee and all sorts. As soon as she mentioned all this it triggered other recollections: when skiing I have more difficulty carving to the left - where more weight is on the right foot - and I can never sustain one-footed skiing on my right foot whereas I have a tolerable ability for this on the left foot.

Having determined how my right leg is generally disagreeable in performance, all quite explainable by the lazy Vastus Medialis muscle (VMO) as identified on Friday, I was started on the road to correcting it. First step was a round of electric-shock therapy. I had had the misfortune of doing some google searches for lazy VMO prior to the consultation, and come across some youtube videos of a chap putting himself through this - using some sort of homebrew kit, crocodile clips and all! Fortunately my treatment was considerably more clinical, but still a rather curious experience.

Once it was activated, I was put through various other exercises to help train this muscle into responding to normal activity. The most difficult bit of this was overpowering my subconcious tendency to twist feet and hips in strange ways, as much as anything because I'm trying to avoid making knees click -- a destructive feedback loop between symptom and cause that has no doubt deepened this issue over the years. I now have a routine of daily exercise to go along side the post-exercise stretches I was issued on Friday.

Cycling home I made a very conscious effort to keep my knees aligned over my pedals, rather than letting them bow inward toward the frame as I now see they do (the Physio had already guessed so much just by seeing the way I sat in the chair with my feet splayed toes outwards). What I had considered as my knees knocking outward at the top of the pedal stroke is infact them knocking inward throughout the entirety of the rest of the revolution.
On the way into work this morning I'd worn a knee compression bandage; this had seemed to prevent the worst of the clunking, but I still arrived with some mild tenderness. (A bad sign as this is only an 8 mile ride so easy to see how it would be worse scaled up to say 400km!)
Coming home, I had no knee bandage but the joint effect of keeping my legs better aligned and trying to clench my quads, and in particular my newly activated VMO, appeared to have a very noticeable result: not only was there no knee-clunking, but no knee pain either.
So now all I need to do is get my own portable electric shock machine to take on my next randonee.

More practically, I'm also going to look into change the pedals on my commuting bike from SPDs to something with more lateral rotational float. I don't believe I need more float per-se, but I do think a freer pedal (such as the speedplays I use on my road bike) would give my more ongoing reminders keep these factors in mind. A lot of people recommend Time ATACs as a good MTB-style pedal with increased float, but I think I'm as much interested to have free float without the spring return that they have; without trying some it's hard to know. So I may just go for Speedplay's "frog" pedal - which frustratingly they've been previewing a replacement for called the SYZR for several years, but has never actually made it to retail. Feels wrong to be spending more on a pair of pedals than many people spend on an entire bike (or BSO), when you know it's already obsolete!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thing1 knee 1

This week I finally got myself organised and saw a Physiotherapist on Friday, to have a look at my knee.

It's a fortnight now since the pain first started in it, on the way to Wales, and which caused us to pack the Brevet Cymru 400km just 30km in on the following day. I had thought it was improving so we drove to Ilminster last weekend to ride the Old Roads 300km, but overnight the pain returned and so we didn't even start. Something had to be done.

The Physio was a little confused by the long story I had to tell about my knee. It's been a bit "clunky" for about 10 years, but rarely painful so I never put much thought to it. I found that within half a minute of starting cycling, if it was clunking, I would unclip my right leg and kick it out a couple of times, and the knee would click the tension be released and this would stop the clunking for many hours or even days.
In short, the problem of the last fortnight is I can no longer click out my leg and so it is continuously clunking.

At the moment, it is looking hopeful the problem is one of patella tracking disorder, rather than more serious meniscus / cartilage damage.

One observation that seems to support this was quite late in the consultation my Physio asked me to clench my quads on either leg, and noticed that the Vastus Medialis muscle on my right leg was "lazy"; slow to contract only doing so in the final stages of squeezing the Vastus Lateralis muscle. In contrast on my left leg these fire about the same time as is desirable.

She made the observation that my quads and ITB are extremely tight, and I need to take up exercises and stretches to address this. She was quite surprised when I replied in the affirmative to a question of whether I own a foam roller! This is particularly good for loosing these areas, it turns out. I'm used to being made aware about how tight my hamstrings are, first time I'd really been made aware of this problem elsewhere.

The one thing she could explain is why, when walking up stairs, my knee clunk is far more pronounced when I make tall ankle extensions with each step. Most likely theory is extending the ankle through calve muscle contraction causes some other quad muscle activity to stablise the leg, having this side effect.

The final experiment of the session was to try taping my knee cap for a day. At first I found this to be rather uncomfortable, partly just from the stickiness pulling on skin and the lack of motion it allows. Cycling on to work it was initially giving a very disconcerting clunk, but eventually it settled and over the 24 hours it became much smoother feeling. Eventually I was surprised how I'd carefully stand up from sitting for a while, moving carefully in anticipation of a knee clunk that never occurred. This more than anything has given me hope that surgery is not going to be required, and I just need to sort out the kneecap stabilising muscles to cure the issue.

The time line for this is hard to predict though. Exercises to rebalance muscles could take a while to get full effect. Hopefully binding it will prove reliable enough to keep it in check in the interim, I will need to test this out on the daily commute and build up to longer distances with it.
The remaining pain and inflammation feeling needs to be given chance to recover as fully as possible before I take on any more long distances, and then I should also be prepared with a regime of ice packs to ward of any final niggles.

With these sorts of issues it seems often recommended runners take up cycling, cyclists take up swimming, for another source of exercise. I never learnt to swim with any real ability, maybe now is the chance? I started investiging some adult swimming lessons in London, and found the Art of Swimming which looks interesting. Would be interested to hear if anyone else has recommendations on this.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food in South America

One of the posts I never got around to writing whilst away was on the subject of food. Like anyone doing a significant amount of exercise a day, we needed a large amount of food to keep going. One of the main differences we found between this tour and previous, shorter, journeys was the amount of food we needed. We always joke that we go to work for a rest and recover between holidays, but it is probably more true than we realised. We suffered in the first few weeks for lack of food, but once we started to eat (and sleep) more, things improved. On shorter trips we probably run a food debt, which we recover when we return. We would normally tour during summer when we are in a better fat burning condition too, which would help. We started this tour having done very little cycling for a few weeks due to the Christmas break and bad weather, and combined with the very tough first few days we ran into trouble very quickly.

A significant problem was that we weren't eating enough protein and so weren't recovering from each days cycling. Getting enough protein was one of the biggest challenges we faced in terms of food. While I love cheese, eating it at every meal does become a little tiresome, and in hot weather it can become quite manky after a few days in a pannier bag. Tins of tuna were quite widely available, but as I don't eat fish that wasn't a lot of help. Tins of meat or pulses were only found in some very large supermarkets, and are bulky and heavy. We found dried pulses in supermarkets, but we only used them when we had plenty of time, water and fuel for soaking and cooking them. In future I might take a rigid screw top container which could be used to soak pulses, and used to carry leftovers (if there are any). We rarely had leftovers on this trip, mostly due to the fact that our pans weren't large enough to accommodate them! Something else to change before our next trip.

The availability and range of food available varied hugely on the trip and was dependent on geography as well as population density. Region XII of Chile is effectively cut off from mainland Chile, and all supplies generally arrive on the weekly supply boat. This means that 'fresh' food is anything but! I'm fairly certain that the lettuces I saw in Puerto Natales had been cut for more than a fortnight. Not surprisingly, there weren't many salad options in the restaurants! As all the shops were stocked from the same supply ship, the only real difference between shops was price. We didn't ever get to go into the largest supermarket in town though (it was closed all the time we were there, probably due to the civil disturbances), so it's possible that they had a wider selection of food, although it wouldn't be any fresher. The quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables available in shops didn't really start to improve until we reached the fruit growing region around Chile Chico, and even there it was very variable. When it was good, it was very good though!

We ate a lot of bread on the trip, eating it most days for breakfast and lunch. After the first week, we bought chilli sauce and sachets of mayonnaise to help keep the sandwiches interesting. Having an avocado or tomato handy also helped. Bread is generally sold by weight in both Chile and Argentina. In Chile bread is mostly found in the form of flat, circular baps whereas in Argentina it is more likely to be longer rolls, and generally fresher tasting. Further north, loaves were becoming more popular, especially at campsites. Bread was sold in some shops, but was not available in some smaller supermarkets or shops. If the town/village shop didn't stock bread, they could point out where it could be bought. Often, this was a normal house with a sign outside. Fresh bread was generally not available until about 10am, but rolls from the previous day were generally available before then (if the shop was open) .

In smaller communities it was rare for shops to advertise their opening hours. Early in the day, this could make things feel a little awkward as some shops would keep the door permanently locked, and you had to ring the door bell to be let in. In a country where a significant proportion of the population doesn't seem to get out of bed before 10am (especially at weekends), ringing a doorbell at 9:30am could seem cruel.
The smallest shops would just have biscuits and soft drinks for sale, but it was rare to not to find a shop selling the basic necessities in the main centre of habitation in an area. It did take some finding sometimes though.

Most people we met on the road seemed to look at what was available in a shop and just buy what was necessary to get them to the next shop. I assume they would also carry emergency rations. We found it difficult to plan exact meals days in advance, and so took a different approach, although it did mean carrying more food overall. We effectively used the our dried food store as you would a cupboard at home. This gave us the flexibility to choose what we wanted to eat on a particular day based on what fresh items were available, if any, and vary the quantity according to how hungry we were. Adding in whatever fresh food we could find along the way helped keep our menu interesting.

Two of the serious addictions we returned to the UK with were for soft drinks, and mayonnaise. In both Chile and Argentina small bags of mayonnaise were available in all but the smallest of shops. It was generally used in our savoury sandwiches at breakfast and lunch, and occasionally added to our evening meal. The packets were relatively small compared to a standard jar, but it was quite a challenge to finish the packet before the hot weather got it. The soft drink addiction was mostly formed while we were in Argentina. The tap water was drinkable (and treated) almost everywhere in Chile. In Argentina it was less good, especially as we got further north. At campsites in the south, it was common for the water to be taken directly from rivers or streams, without treatment. We got into the habit of filtering water whenever we were dubious about its origins. Soft fizzy drinks were very widely available, and so we began drinking less water and more coke /fanta/local equivalents. In the UK, the only bottled soft drink I tend to drink is lucosade sport, and only when cycling. I do drink squash too. In the south, where there was plenty of water, we used the south American alternative to squash/cordial - sachets of powder in an enormous variety of fruit flavours to mix with cold water.

One of the things that the locals found odd about our camping habits, was that we didn't always light a fire. All campsites we visited had a fogon (fire ring) for every pitch. In both Chile and Argentina, the assado (BBQ) was very important, and much more than a cooking device. We saw groups lighting fires for breakfast, lunch, onces (tea time), evening meal and for company at night. It seems common for for families and friends to regularly gather around the BBQ. Very sociable, and good fun if you are invited along too!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

3Down audax: 1 down, 3 to go!

We survived the 3Down 300km brevet. The weather was as close to perfect as you could ever hope for in an early April date, warming up by midday, but then a little overcast as we got onto the New Forest moors. The wind was south to south-east all day, meaning a fairly tough headwind as we got onto the more exposed parts of the forest, but it did deliver a healthy hand pushing us back through the second half.

This event is typically only run in PBP years (when the calendar generally holds more events), so this is the first time we'd participated. The route is ideal, leaving the conurbations in the early hours and following some quiet roads. By midday we were getting into the New Forest, which is a much nicer place to be than around busy town centres on a Saturday afternoon. Overall we barely touched major towns, skirting around (e.g. Winchester and Basingstoke) or controlling on the periphery (e.g. Fordingbridge) which saved time and hassle navigating one way systems.

This was quite an important ride for us, as since we cycled to York in November we've not done a single day's riding over 120km. Further, we'd not yet started our PBP qualification campaign, so this was our first step towards that. PBP qualification requires one ride each of at least: 200km, 300km, 400km, 600km. We're unable to make any of the remaining 200s, so the 3Down will fill that gap.

Having spent two months cycle touring we were reassured to find we were not entirely out of shape. We started out at a high pace, as we always like to, as it's a fully attended event this allowed us to get clear of the biggest bulk of the strain on the early controls. Once we hit a couple of small climbs before Pangbourne we settled into a more reasonable pace, dropping back from the lead groups but still riding with several different groups that we saw throughout the day.
As we left Pangbourne we spotted Mel K grabbing some food outside the corner shop, along with Steve Abraham and a couple others. We shouted a quick "hello" as we left, and Mel jumped on the bike and joined us. Really good to catch up with Mel, we always find him great company on rides. After a few km he glanced at his GPS and suddenly exclaimed where we were leading him? Of course, we were taking the scenic detour in the route, whereas Mel had intended to take the mainroad (A4) route out of Pangbourne as he'd just been explaining to us he'd come out without descent lighting on the bike due to a last minute change, and so wanted to minimize time spend cycling in the dark. Opps. Anyway, not the first time Mel has ended up on a scenic detour!

We made it to the 150km turn around point without too much problem, but by that point had only eaten cold food (sandwiches etc) so when we arrived in Alresford for the 219km control, rather than seek out the recommended Tesco Express, Emma spotted a great little tea room just as we arrived in town. As we were there well within 11 hours (9 hours remaining for 85km) we decided to have a good feed, and so banqueted on tea, soup, beans on toast, and cakes.

Predictably enough, the next stage was fairly slow and hard going, as we digested that lot. Around the 225km mark I was really starting to feel like I was about ready to stop for the day. This is equivalent to a bit over-distance 200, and seems to be a fairly natural point for the body and backside and legs to feel like they'd had enough. It's amazing how you can recover from these lows though, another 30km down the road we were going as well as any point. I guess our base fitness and endurance is in pretty good shape, we're just quite out of practice at being out on the bike for such long periods all in one go.

The final 20 or so kilometers we were able to lift our pace a little. We often like to do this even more than going out fast at the start. Partly the anticipation of finishing draws us on, but more over it's a nice way to explore what sort of untapped reserves the body still has hidden away even after a long day out. Reserves you know you'll need to call on on your next, longer, ride so why not test them a little!
Weaving through Maidenhead at 9pm was probably the low point of the route; not an awful experience but busy enough to remind you how tranquil the day had been up to that point. Some point after that we came across a couple of the other riders who we'd been playing tandem leap-frog with all day. They were struggling to navigate in the dark and feeling the effects of a long day out too, so were grateful for a tandem-assisted tow back to the Arrivée. Complete with dual stoker and GPS powered navigation, we made good progress. The final bonus was as we approached Gerrards Cross, still with a presumed 12km to go, Emma pointed out the route was only 307km not 315km. It may not sound like much, but finding out there's 8km less than expected and we were so very close to the end was such happy sound to my ears at that point!

In the end this was a very good start to our PBP qualification campaign - just 3 more to go!

Friday, April 1, 2011

First Audax in 4 months

It's amazing what a few months away from audaxing does to you. It's taken about 4 hours this evening to re-find all our critical cycling clobber and gather it ready for tomorrow's 3Down ride.
Whilst the route is reasonably flat, and the weather is promising to behave, it could still be a bit of a challenging ride, as besides not audaxing for 4 months we've not ridden over 150km in a day in all that time (tomorrow is a 300km!), and we've barely been on the bike at all in the last month! On top of that, this is the first of our PBP qualifier rides, so we really don't want any mistakes...!
I'm very glad we had some time off this week, so at least the bike is well prepared, and we've both caught up on our sleep ready for tomorrow's 4am start (eek!). I even think we may have both shaken the worst of our colds now too...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Take aways from Ski Touring in Val d'Isere

Mark Warner holidays, Cygnaski hotel
This has been a pleasantly surprising success. It certainly makes things easier arranging a holiday for 2 rather than 12, and especially so as a last minute deal, but even so the Mark Warner package has proved to be a very low stress and good value way to get in 6 days on (and off) the piste. We managed to get the week for half price, which makes it far more attractive than full price that's for sure. On the downsides, both flights were scheduled for an eye watering early time of day, more frustrating on the way out as we knew we'd never make it to the slopes that day despite the so early start. The transfer was a bit delayed, but we did still get to the hotel shortly after 2pm which gave plenty of time to relax and shower, get to the hire shops and organise guiding, and have a good dinner. Our experience of the complementary ski-hosting was a disappointment; we took an hour to find the group from the other hotel as our own hotel's advanced guide was unwell (...the day after staff day off, coincidence?) and then found the group already had an unwieldy 12 members despite us being told there was space, so we decided to do our own thing. Most other customers, and especially those traveling on their own or slightly less confident of there level, were extremely happy with the guiding service though, and the pre-booked lunch stopped seemed to be in good value restaurants in great locations.
On the plus side, the overall ease of travel did surprise us, having been victim to nightmare transfers before now. The quality and reliability of food; full english breakfast, real english tea!, good varied evening meals and especially the cakes at afternoon tea time; was much higher standard than the median catered chalet experience which is always very hit-or-miss depending on the particular staff you get. The room was larger than your average chalet, with a descent on-suite really appreciated. Whilst it's true the whole hotel is a touch on the tired side, it served us well and no complaints about fixtures and fittings not working and so forth.
From what we've seen and heard from other guests, the childcare service seems as good as you get anywhere, and must be really good value in non-school holiday weeks like this where they lay it on for free.
We almost booked at the Hotel Moris, for the same price that offered a better location (bang opposite the hire shop & guiding service), but no on-suite, and above a very noisy late opening bar. I heard some people staying there rave about how it has a loyal following; I guess if you take ear plugs it could be OK, but the Cygnaski having a bus stop immediately outside made life just as convenient for us overall, especially as on several days we ended skiing at La Daille (equally well placed for returning from Tignes as Val d'Isere mountains) and it's just 2 stops back to the Cygnaski from there.

Alpine Experience ski touring
Quite unlike any other ski guiding service we have used. Typically we have booked freelance guides via the agency, they are always very proficient - trained to the French exceptionally high standards - but rarely particularly talkative and so you just get a day of playing catchup with the fast guy, and not knowing where exactly you are going or why.
Alpine Experience seem to follow a quite different philosophy. Being an established company, they have a more cohesive vision about what they're about, and this runs through much of what they do. Both Andreas and Thomas were very good at explaining exactly why they were choosing a certain area to ski in, a certain slope to take, a particular spot to avoid, both from type and quality of snow and avalanche safety considerations.
Their system of putting together small groups of up to 6 or 7 works really well, making it far more affordable to take guided skiing on several days of a holiday whilst still receiving close attention but without the need to signup a whole week in an ESF-style piste-snaking class.
We came away feeling we'd learnt far more about the skills needed for "backcountry" skiing far more than any other trip, from the basics of ski touring and skinning through to many little tips on safety, finding the best snow, and how to make the trip more enjoyable.

(delayed posting, stuck in draft status for 6 years!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Our first day ski touring

Well we survived it! And I'm glad to say, the rope, shovels and beepers were not required.

We spent 4 hours out on a private off piste lesson with Alpine Experience, and greatly enjoyed it. Interestingly our guide, Andreas, took us out over the Col Pers towards the Gorges de Malpasset valley, which is the one run we did several years ago when we had a guide for a day here. (Although this year the gorge itself has insufficient snow to ski through). It was quite a different experience this time though, partly no doubt due to our marginally improved technique and more demonstrably improved fitness, but also because we had skins for the skis to allow us to walk up some slopes as well as ski down, so we could pick and choose the exact slopes to run. Also, being a true private lesson with one guide between the two of us made a real difference, rather than a guide split amongst 6 or 7 of similar abilities, but some skiing and some snow boarding.

Andreas took some photos of us skiing, which I was able to plot on the map using my GPS track. I'm quite proud of this photo, which if you look closely above our heads you can see the neat and tidy tracks we made in the snow. Here's a close up.

Later on in the tour we had to cross over a large avalanche run off that had fired a couple days before; Wayne, another of the guides out today, wrote about a bit about it in his blog for today.

I remembered well the flat run out at the end of the day, fortunately no snow borders needing a tow out of there this time (Nick!) but Emma pointed out this is the start of the road from Fornet that climbs up over the Col De L'Iseren, the highest paved mountain pass in the Alps. With luck, we'll be back here in 4 months cycling over through those very same routes; can't wait to see how it looks in summer.

In all, a great day out, and we got to try ski touring for real which we really enjoyed, and the guide was happy enough to recommend we join up a group trip tomorrow, so another early start!

After all we'd seen, and given the the general conditions in the Alps this spring, we were very keen to make it out to Henry's Avalanche Talk, which was very informative and a good opportunity to meet some more of the Alpine Experience guides too. We also noticed that some of the excellent video footage used in the talk was made by our Audaxing friend Damon Peacock, who was the one who gave us the good recommendation to come to this resort and use this guiding company.

Monday, March 14, 2011

South America tour 2011 - Journal Contents

Photo Gallery

Thursday - Saturday 10-12th March: Returning home (March 14, 2011)
Tuesday, Wednesday 8-9 March : game over man, game over! (March 10, 2011)
Maps are back! (March 8, 2011)
Monday 7th March : the horse is lame (March 8, 2011)
Sunday 6 Mar: definitely back in Argentina now (March 7, 2011)
Saturday 5 Mar: look Dobbin, mountains! (March 6, 2011)
Friday 4 Mar: heading up the Aconcagua valley (March 4, 2011)
Thursday 3 March : to Santiago, and then some (March 4, 2011)
Tuesday and Wednesday 1 & 2 Mar: northward bound (March 3, 2011)
Monday 28 Feb: leaving the mountains (for now) (March 1, 2011)
Sunday 27 Feb: 24 hours of surprises (March 1, 2011)
Friday and Saturday 25 - 26 Feb: Hua Hum pass to Chile (February 28, 2011)
Thursday 24 Feb : it's all downhill from here (except for the ups) (February 24, 2011)
Wednesday 23 Feb: power up! (February 24, 2011)
Tuesday 22 Feb: leaving ruta 40 (again) (February 23, 2011)
Monday 21 Feb: Bariloche (February 23, 2011)
Photos from Rafting in Futaleufu (February 21, 2011)
Sunday 20 Feb: Bariloche and beer (February 21, 2011)
Saturday 19 Feb: hippy skipping (February 21, 2011)
Thursday and Friday 17/18 Feb: parque national de Alerces (February 20, 2011)
Wednesday 16 Feb : and the decision is..... (February 18, 2011)
Tuesday 15 Feb: What to do Wednesday? (February 15, 2011)
Monday 14 Feb : Messing about on the river (February 15, 2011)
Sunday 13 Feb: Arrival in Futaleufú (February 15, 2011)
Saturday 12 Feb: the final day on the carretera austral (February 13, 2011)
Friday 11 Feb: short day to La Junta (February 13, 2011)
Thursday 10 Feb: beautiful carretera austral (February 11, 2011)
Wednesday 9 Feb: getting hotter (February 10, 2011)
Tuesday 8 Feb : the bike was clean! (February 9, 2011)
Sunday & Monday 6-7 Feb: hanging out in Coyhaique (February 8, 2011)
Saturday 5 Feb: ripio woes, paved road woo! (February 7, 2011)
Friday 4 February: ticking along nicely on a Carretera Austral (February 7, 2011)
Thursday: rock and water (February 7, 2011)
Tuesday and Wednesday: shifting down a gear (February 6, 2011)
Photos! (February 1, 2011)
Monday - A relaxing days cycle (January 31, 2011)
Sunday: leaving Tortel, more rain (January 31, 2011)
Saturday: rainy Caleta Tortel (January 31, 2011)
Thursday, Friday : setting off on the carretera austral (January 31, 2011)
Tuesday and Wednesday: border crossing to Villa O'Higgins (January 31, 2011)
Sunday & Monday: El Chaltén at last! (January 24, 2011)
Saturday: hiding out from ruta 40 headwind (January 24, 2011)
Friday : The Return of Ruta 40 (January 24, 2011)
Thursday : Glacier Perito Moreno (January 21, 2011)
Tuesday & Wednesday: ruta 40 strikes back (January 21, 2011)
Monday: final escape from the blockades (January 19, 2011)
Sunday: hiking las torres (January 16, 2011)
Some introspection on the first two weeks (January 16, 2011)
Saturday: got to Torres del paine (January 16, 2011)
Friday: escape from Puerto natales (January 15, 2011)
Adios(?) Puerto natales (January 14, 2011)
Cycling through a hurricane? (January 13, 2011)
The contradictions of Region XII (January 12, 2011)
Tuesday. Puerto natales ahoy! (January 12, 2011)
Monday: El viento gets angry (January 12, 2011)
Sunday. Ruta 40 gets nasty. (January 12, 2011)
Saturday. Dobbin hits the road (January 12, 2011)
Wed eve - Friday : Into the unknown (January 8, 2011)
Thoughts from Buenos Aires (January 7, 2011)
Dobbin updates! (January 5, 2011)
Boarding at gate X (January 2, 2011)
Bag packing (January 1, 2011)

Photos on a map
- Part 1 - Buenos Aires to El Chalten
- Part 2 - Carretera Austral
- Part 3 - Lake Districts
- Part 4 - Santiago to Mendoza