Posts Tagged With: Dodgy roads

Day 19/164: Bogota to Anapoima – 85km

1,356km down: 12,285km to go

Three new riders have joined the group:
Franzwar (not how you spell his name but that’s how it sounds, he’s from France) he has done sections of other rides and is doing a couple of sections of this one (Editor’s note: I’m assuming Mum means “François”)
Mario – a young German guym this is his first TDA ride doing the whole ride
Rosa – from the Netherlands here for 3 weeks has done the South African ride before.

Rosa at the market lunch stop (Photo and caption credit: Sue's blog)

Rosa at the market lunch stop (Photo and caption credit: Sue’s blog)

We are staying at El Molino camp in Anapoima tonight.

We left in a convoy of course, as we were coming out of a large city. It was threatening to rain, and would you believe there is a public transport strike happening.

We had a police escort. I decided to ride in the the lunch truck until lunch, which was meant to be at 29 kilometres, and then ride the rest of the way – about another 90k. The convoy took over 2 hours through the crazy traffic.

The police escort then dropped us off at the Terpel petrol station as planned and the instructions for riders, regarding distance and turning etc started from there. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans! The problem was it was the wrong Terpel station and the person who had mapped out the route was not with the convoy. So chaos ensued as the directions and the road were not matching!

Trying to figure out which way to go (Photo credit: Sue's blog)

Trying to figure out which way to go (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

Luckily the riders realized pretty quickly and re grouped and contacted Christiano, and they were redirected and it only added another 10k to their ride. The truck however went really wrong, and by the time the TDA staff realized and back tracked, the riders had already passed the 29k mark.

The lunch truck was following the riders, and trying to overtake riders going down a narrow steep dirt road. It was not till we got to 52 kilometres that we had passed enough riders to make it worthwhile stopping for lunch.

I decided to still ride as there was approximately another 40 kilometres so I hopped on my bike. The first 15 kilometres was down and up the same terrain as before lunch – windy, narrow, dirt and occasionally rocky. This certainly was part of the 15% of the time I knew I would wish I had bought a mountain bike.

After this was about 10 kilometres of uphill, reasonably steep gradient. It was boiling hot and I was huffing and puffing. I am still not coping with altitude, and generally not being fit enough. I finally got to the open road with a reasonable down, and then some rolling hills.

Just before camp I came across Paul, one of the other riders, walking his bike down the hill. Paul’s brakes had failed quite a while before but luckily he was not harmed. Paul commented that it was a peculiar brand of torture having a bike you could only ride up the hills.

I got to camp and set up my tent, but did not realize I had put it on too steep a slope. I didn’t realise until I went to bed, and then I did not want to try and move it in the dark, which as it turns out would have been a better option. I kept waking up uncomfortably hunched at the bottom on the tent. Between the roosters that started at 2 am, the heat, and the trucks, I did not get a lot of sleep.

We had Spaghetti Bolognese for tea.

Tonight's campsite (Photo credit: Sue's blog)

Tonight’s camp-site (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day 15/164: Viani to La Vega – 72 km

1,211 km down: 12,430 km to go – 1,800 metres up, 1,300 metres down

My tyre was still up in the morning, so I crossed my fingers that the problem was solved. I decided to ride the lunch truck to lunch, as I was fed up with getting into camp late with only just enough time to put up my tent, eat, and crash into bed. Plus I was very weary as I had been kept awake quite a bit of the night by the local pub across the road where they partied on until about 2:30 in the morning, then the roosters and the dogs took over. There were a few grumpy riders in the morning. I figured “Hey, it was Friday night and the locals have the right to do as they usually do”. But added to the last few days, I decided to listen to my body.

Off we went in the truck. We went up and up and had the most spectacular views of the mountains covered in snow. Colombia is a very hilly country, without much flat land so far. We went past a petrol station and there was a horse just sitting and chilling in the forecourt. Ray, one of the truck regulars, commented that the horse was there so that if there was no gas you can continue on horseback.

Certainly the animals here are very road wise and I have only seen two dead domestic animals at the roadside so far. You see locals heading off to work with their horses following them along a main road, not bring led or held at all. There are lots of cows grazing untethered on the roadside as well. Endless dogs happily trotting along the road, and crossing at will, happily preoccupied with their doggy business. There does not seem to be any regulations or a pound truck cruising around. The dogs seem in reasonable health and happy. So far I have not seen a dog fight. If I come back in the next life as a dog, I would like to be a dog in Colombia.

The roads are variable, you get a well paved bit then for no reason it becomes rocky gravel, and then paved road again. There are a lot of areas where there have been landslides and there is only one lane. This becomes a challenge with trucks, mostly the drivers are excellent but there is always the occasional few bad ones, then when both don’t give way, a line of trucks backing is no easy feat!

The one place where the roads are in pristine condition though is 50 meters before and after the toll booths. We go through an average of at least one toll booth a day (bikes don’t have to pay). The road can have numerous pot holes and gravel for a couple of kilometres before and after. At every toll booth there are people selling food and drinks. Often there is a person in a wheelchair or on crutches asking for donations. There is only one per toll booth, almost regularly. You have to wonder if they have to pay for the place!

Today was a very busy section for trucks, endless trucks going both ways, sometimes 10 in a row. I was pleased not to be riding this bit.

I had seen a few locals taking milk urns on their horses or motor bikes, today I saw one with the urns in a wheel barrow. It’s amazing what the locals transport on a motor bike – fridges, wood, whole families, pigs etc.

We had been going for about 40 kilometres when Luis the truck driver got a phone call telling him to stop before 40 kilometres for lunch, as after that there was nowhere to park. It would have been really difficult to turn around because of the traffic so they decided to keep going.

We went for about another kilometre and they saw a local’s house with quite a big front section, so asked the family if we could park there. The family kindly agreed. I don’t think they were quite so happy a couple of minutes later when one of the hydraulic pipes burst in the truck and sprayed fluid all over their concrete!  As Luis and Alejandro (bike mechanic) were busy with trying to sort this out, Ray, John (another truck regular) and I got the lunch ready before we rode off.

I had the job of cutting up left over chicken, helped by the family pets – two dogs and the cat – who happily took care of the chicken skin for me. Luis had managed by this time to get hold of a local truck mechanic who came and fixed the problem.

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Dog and cat at lunch time (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

Off I went for 35 kilometres, 900 meters of uphill. I managed to ride most of it but did have to get off a few times. I have discovered that one of my problems is that I try to ride up hills too fast. My experience of hills is hills that go for 3 kilometres, not 30, and I am starting to realize that you just can’t attack them the same.  There was mostly paved with some sections of rocky and gravel, sometimes two meters and sometimes a kilometre or so.

I hot to about 30 kilometres and I got another freaking flat tyre!!!! Same tyre! Bloody hell! Starting to lose my sense of humour! I had to find a safe space to change the tyre so had to walk for a bit. I spied a piece of flat lawn that looked possible, by what looked like a house. Joy of joy to find it was a shop and I could have a cold drink first. A couple of the other riders were there, once again we checked the tyre and rim. The consensus is that there is a small shaft of glass or wire that you can’t see or feel, that pushes out when the tyre is warm and it pops the tube. I will take the tyre to a bike shop in Bogota and if nothing can be found I will bin the tyre and replace it.

Off again, temperature rising up to 38 degrees again, but thankfully not far to go. I had to go through the town and then a kilometre out of town and turn right, and go about a kilometre up the road.  The kilometre up the road took for ever, it was so hot I was going from tree shade to the shade.

Putting up the tent was done in stages due to the heat. It was nice to be in camp by 2pm and I spent the afternoon sitting by the pool, chatting to other riders, and catching up with the blog. No internet again for the 5th day in a row, even though there was meant to be I could not log on, but at least I caught up a few days and saved in draft.

 

Relaxing by the pool

Relaxing by the pool (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

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The pool where we stayed (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

I went to lock up my bike and found I had yet another flat. I decided I was not going to ride the next day in the convey into Bogota – it’s bad enough being a slower rider holding the convoy up, without getting flat tyres as well.

Rider's meeting

Rider’s meeting (Photo credit: Sue’s blog)

I went to bed about 7:30 but had trouble getting to sleep. There was a youth/ church/sports or something group making lots of noise. This music went on until 4:30 in the morning. They were shouting, laughing, drumming, playing music etc. It was harder to cope with than the night before, which had been a constant beat. I did have my earplugs in but it did not shut out the noise completely. We had  to get up at 4:30 so we could be in Bogota by 2pm.

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day 5: San Marcos to Caucasia – 122km

428 km down: 13,213 km to go

I set off from the hotel at 6:30am thinking “122 kilometres with 65 kilometres off road, how bad could it be?”.

Well. It had rained constantly overnight and the dirt road was actually a dirt bath. The first 3 to 4 kilometres were ok, but then it was followed by a section where the mud was so thick and wet you could not ride and you could not push your bike either. Every time you tried, you got 10 meters and then had to spend 5 minutes pulling mud out of the front and back tyres and chain of the bike.

The mud road

The mud road

A couple of times along the track the locals helped us out and hosed down our bikes. There was about 3 kilometres where the only option was to carry your bike. My bike is 18 kilos, plus the panniers that kept trying to fall off at every opportunity, though they were also hooked around my bike chain and locked so I couldn’t actually lose them. I would get about 30 meters carrying the bike and have to stop then go another 30 meters and so on. Thankfully the temperature was kinder than previous days, it was only 26 degrees.

A local hosing down my bike

A local hosing down the bikes (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

The locals all waved and smiled at us as we went past, and were probably thinking “Stupid foreigners, why the heck don’t they use the main road!”.

After a while there were bits you could ride but I still had to keep jumping off whenever it got to a muddy bit, sometimes 20 meters, sometimes 50, then we got to some stretches where you could ride 200 to 300 meters. I fell off a number of times and was caked in mud, mainly by thinking the mud was harder than it was and over balancing when my bike slipped. I soon learnt not to try and steer when this happened.

Ironic, I thought I bought my bike here for it to carry me, not the other way round! After a stretch of a few kilometres where it started to get better I was feeling hopeful, then I saw riders carrying their bikes over a 500 metre stretch that was a quagmire. Luckily after this it improved again.

The quagmire

Carrying your bike was the only way to go (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

stopped

Stopped for a quick drink – yes, I am as exhausted as I look (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

We had to go 35 kilometres and then catch a canoe to the other side for 2000 pesos, which is about 1 New Zealand Dollar. When we got there, there were heaps of locals collected to watch the entertainment, and the local children were fundraising by washing our bikes for 2000 pesos each. They were most enthusiastic and you had to stop them from rushing off with the panniers still attached.

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The kids washing the bikes (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Locals

Locals on the river bank watching us

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Canoe loading in progress (Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

Then across on the canoe – which was more of a long boat – to the other side, about 50 meters. Once we got to the other side it was narrow, windy, muddy and at times steep. I decided to walk as I had fallen off enough for the day, and because of this I lost contact with the other two riders who I had come across in the canoe with.

Thankfully it started getting a bit easier and less narrow, however then I came to another river and another canoe, and this was not in my notes! I started to get that sick feeling that I was lost. I pointed down the river rather than across and the two ferryman shook their heads and pointed to the canoe. I was still dubious, so they decided for me by pulling my bike on board.

Sitting on the canoe I could feel my bottom lip start to tremble and then tears slide out of my eyes as I was really worried that I was going the wrong way. “Stop being a baby”, I told myself “I’m sure the locals know what they’re doing”.

Over the other side I biked about 5 kilometres feeling a bit worried, and then came to a house where the road curved. There was Christiano, the tour leader, who had to come to the first point that there was vehicle access, as he knew that we would be worried that there was a second canoe crossing. I was so pleased to see him I burst into tears and hugged him.

Off again, more dirt roads, another 35 kilometres to go, thankfully only had to get off on average every 500 metres. My cleats and clips were so clogged with mud that I could not clip them in, and it got very wearying trying to balance my shoes on top. I tried washing them a few times in puddles without much success.

I seemed to ride forever and just when I thought “Ok I have missed a turn”, I came to a more built up area (5 to 6 houses) and then thankfully hard tarmac and there was the lunch truck! I could not believe it was 3:50pm! 9 hours for 65 kilometres and still 55 to go.

I had a quick lunch, once again the local children washed the bike for 2000 pesos. My bike was clucking and clacking and I could not get into the biggest gear. I managed to get another 35 kilometres but it gets dark at 6ish, and I did not have my light or reflector as I had no reason to think it would be needed that morning.

After 35 kilometres I made the call that I wouldn’t get another 20 kilometres before it got dark. By this time I was on a main highway with lots of trucks, and motorbikes zooming along on the shoulder.

I decided to stop at the toll booth where it is well lit – and there are Policia – to wait for the truck to pick me up. I asked the policia man if I could sit there, he seemed agreeable although after I had been there for about 45 minutes in the dark he tried to ask me what I was up to – in Spanish. After no success there was a huddle of the policia and then about 10 minutes later another man arrived and sat down next to me and asked if I spoke English. I told him what was happening, he spoke to the Policia and all was fine. I was pleased I had bought my bug cream in my pannier, as I was there for another 30 minutes.

It was 8pm by the time we got to camp. A number of riders only got to lunch and one of the riders Asha had lost his rear derailer, and was up for ages repairing his bike.

It was a tired lot putting up tents in the dark (my headlight batteries ran out of course!), sorting our bikes and getting the mud off (2 showers for all the riders – but thankfully there were showers at all!).

Sue had broken 7 spokes on her bike and another rider and I had wrecked our riding shoes (both of us had old shoes). I have been wearing my new riding shoes as walking shoes on rest days to try and break them in so I don’t get my feet covered with blisters. The clips are inserted into the sole, and then you put a cover over the sole.

When I got onto the truck I had both panniers and my bike chain lock, but I haven’t seen my bike chain lock since. Last time I was on the truck I had got on with 2 water bottles now I only have one. I am carrying water in my panniers, and will buy a new chain and lock when I see a bike store.

This one photo pretty much sums up the day. This isn't posed - it's where Sue fell off her bike Photo credit: Sue's Facebook page

This one photo pretty much sums up the day. This isn’t posed – it’s where Sue and her bike landed when she fell off.
Photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Day 3: Tolu to San Marcos – 130k

306km down: 13,335km to go

Everyone slept better last night. It’s still hot, and so far I have slept with no covers at night. The rosters made their appearance about 4am.

I have been having trouble with my speedo on my bike which is a real issue as it’s hard to turn right at 33kilometres if your speedo is not working. I took it to the tour bike mechanic yesterday and thought it was fixed but it stopped going again today, just a couple of kilometres out of camp.  However, it was lucky that I had taken it to get the speedo looked at as the mechanic picked up there was a problem with my front brake – it was only clamping on one side. So much for spending a fortune at the bike shop before the trip to make sure it was all in working order! There was a screw stripped, and it took the mechanic ages to get the screw off and readjust the brakes so they worked both sides.

We had an early start today – breakfast at 6, to get on the road earlier because of the heat. Even so it was 7 before I got on the road.

Not sure how I managed it but I took a wrong turn before the Main Rd and ended up at a dead end in a paddock. Luckily some young local lads pointed me the right way. Then 2 kilometres later I nearly made a wrong turn again – that old confusion between left and right – but some locals yelled at me and pointed the other way. They had noted the other riders going the other way.

A number of the locals, especially the children, smile and wave and I have learnt hello. They helpfully point the way at some of the intersections also.

The planned ride was 134 kilometres. The first 20 kilometres was pretty good – still nice and cool, rolling hills, and I was feeling pretty ok.

I enjoyed looking at the local houses with their thatched roofs. There are chickens and chicks, pigs, cows, donkeys, and horses, all grazing on the side of the main road. They seem to have a really good road sense and don’t wander out into the traffic at all. They say the South American cows are quite smart, they are interesting looking – they have long ears and a hump on their back. A lot of them have a white bird hanging around – one white bird per cow. The birds eat ticks off them.

The locals have an interesting habit of painting the trunks of trees to match the colour of their houses, it makes for an interesting colour combo going along the street. The houses in the country side are very basic with thatched roofs, and one or two rooms, no plumbing. No running water, but a number of them must have a septic tank but the water is from a big drum and the shower is a bucket of water. The family generally sleeps in one room.

At most houses are chickens, at least one dog, and some have pigs – not so many cats. Although that could be because it’s baking hot and the cats are sensibly asleep out of the sun.

In the more built up area, the houses range from small dwellings with a couple of chairs in the main area, to some quite substantial ranches.

The main traffic here is trucks: large and small, motorbikes by the hundred carrying whole families, wood, shopping – I saw one with the passenger carrying three squirming, squealing pigs. No helmets to be seen. Then there are buses, very few cars, and people on horseback and in carts. There are so many roadside drink stops often a bit of shade, a few seats, and one glass front cooler.

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Drink stops (photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

At 20 kilometres the sweep caught up with me as I was the last rider. Three of the riders had gone in the lunch truck to start from 84 kilometres. The sweep is a tour staff member who rides at the back of the riders so will come across any one broken down or in trouble. They will either fix the problem or call for one of the vehicles. Erin, who was the mornings sweep, is a general surgeon from Switzerland who has taken six months off work. As well as being the sweep some days, Erin is one of the two medics on the tour. The other medic is Jodie, a trauma nurse and Paramedic.

It was my first time being the last rider, I expect it won’t be the last until I get fitter and thinner. My legs were tired by the previous two days riding, and overall tiredness from lack of sleep, but I was confident that if I took it slowly and drank plenty of water I would complete the ride. Although I did have to get off my bike part way up a steep long hill.

At about 55 kilometres the road got very uneven and a few pot holes. It was starting to get very hot and humid, and the sun was not covered by clouds as yesterday. I stopped to buy more water – some to drink, some to tip over my head.

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The dirt road begins (photo credit: Sue’s Facebook page)

I got to 67 kilometres where the gravel road started. The first five or so kilometres were ok but then I started to suffer from the total lack of any shade, plus it was 42 to 43 degrees, it was insane. The next 15 kilometres were dreadful: biking for three to four kilometres, stopping and pouring some water over my head, then biking some more.

Even with applying sunblock every hour my arms were starting to burn so I had to put on arm warmers, plus I still had my legs warmers on as my legs had not recovered from the first day. This really did not help!

As well as this the dirt would turn to deep sand and you would get stuck. About 2 kilometres before the lunch stop, we stopped at a bit of shade. I was feeling a bit light headed and made the decision I was going to stop at lunch.

I got going again and made it to the lunch stop which was under three massive big trees. There was another rider – Nelson from Canada – who was also stopping at lunch. Nelson has done a lot of riding but, like me, could not cope with the heat. I had drunk about 6 bottles of water so hydration wasn’t the issue. Along the dirt track a number of trucks slowed down to check we were ok, which was nice. The locals are really friendly.

Having never got in the lunch truck to ride back to camp I was surprised how long it took to pack it all up. I am pleased I made the decision, as although I could have ridden the distance with the terrain, I don’t think I would have finished with the heat. The dirt road went on for another 30 kilometres with no shade! We picked up another rider 10 kilometres along also done in by the heat.

Along the way there were hundreds of anthill mounds, some impressively high –freestanding up to a metre high, and then some against trees and fence posts. I did not get a photo as I was in the truck, but am sure I will see some again.

Just after this we passed Sue who was riding with another rider, Mark from USA . They both gave the thumbs up signal (which means you don’t need the truck to stop) and big grins – or were they grimaces?!  A number of the riders told us that one of the locals had driven into town got cold water and driven back to give it out to them.

Got to the hotel … at about 4:30pm. It was nice to have a chance to get washing done, and sleep in a bed for two nights.  I am sharing with Sue. The room is very basic, and the shower is just like a tap on the wall with cold water, but the toilet flushes – amazing how quickly you come to appreciate that.  Plus they do your washing for a reasonable fee so I don’t have to find a laundry yet.

I had a shower and a cold beer, at that stage Sue came in, she was knackered – and she just finished riding the South African trip 2 months ago!

Once Sue had had a rest and a shower we went up the road, found the local supermarket and bought water etc. We were quite tired so just had something to eat there, got some water and a couple of cold beers, and came back to the hotel. On the way back we were amused to see three cows just wandering the street, one was pulling up the shrubbery by a house.

Categories: Columbia, South American Epic | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day 79: Avis to Benavente – 104k

6,233km down: 55km to go 

It was a very quiet camp site last night, but I still managed to wake up at 2am and stay awake for a couple of hours. “Oh well” I thought “At least it is the second to last night in the tent, and its not raining”.

I know I have probably bored you all to tears with my running commentary on the toilet facilities where we stay. However as I have talked about the other countries I can’t not mention the Portuguese facility. So I walk in and the first thing I see is a squat toilet, no paper but a hose, and no hand rail to lever up and down! Thankfully I went to the next cubicle and there is a toilet bowl, though once again no seat and no paper. In comparison to the squat toilet it is not so bad, apart from the fact they don’t really flush. You push the button and about a teaspoon on water comes trickling out, so not the cleanest. There was no soap which is par for the course. The showers are full of empty shampoo bottles, toilet paper (I don’t even want to imagine why that was in there) and hair. I felt like I needed a shower after the shower, ugghh! The camp site was well lit though so no problem finding your way to the facilities in the dark.

There was no rain over night and as we have moved back an hour since coming into Portugal it was light this morning when we had breakfast. When we got the instructions for the day – YAY!!!! No tenting tonight, we are staying in hotel, hurray! Yahoo! A bed etc.

Tonight we will get our tour tops so we can wear them into Lisbon tomorrow. The ride tomorrow is going to be short about 50k, of which 35k is a convoy. We will have a celebration when we get there with photos etc. Then we’ll have a break to pack up bikes, get changed etc and then our last dinner together.

Even while today riding it did not seem real, but tonight it is starting to sink in. Especially as I have spent the past hour writing thank you cards for the TDA crew. They are all amazing people and I am going to miss them. I have been challenged on many levels on this trip and they have been supportive and encouraging all the way.

Today was 104k which makes our total so far 6,233k, so we have definitely done the distance on the shirt which is 6226k, phew I won’t feel like a fraud when I wear it. Today was not so challenging, a few climbs but nothing significant. There were two gravel roads, one about 4k and one about 10k. A couple of the riders are not happy when we ride on gravel because they have thin road bike tyres, but hey, it says clearly in the tour information we will go off road onto gravel and dirt roads.

We had one highway we had to go along that did not have much of a shoulder, and there were trucks, so it was a bit hairy. The Portuguese drivers are not as relaxed and bike friendly as their Italian and Spanish counterparts. We discovered this within about 5k of entering the country, when two cars cut us off at a roundabout.

So we were wary of the traffic, but mostly it was pretty good, only a couple of cars got a bit close. At the lunch stop Esther made us laugh, she had flagged the stop with the usual orange tape, but had also written last lunch with the tape (tomorrow we have a packed lunch).

Last Lunch Stop

Today at about 20k we were rushed by a couple of guard dogs. The gate to the yard they were minding was open, and all of a sudden out they came! I concentrated on not making eye contact and not moving my legs as it was a slight downhill, so I just glided through, and they let us go. They got pretty close to Daniel, with one being on each side of him, and he could feel the cold of their noses on his buttocks, but once he stopped pedalling they let him glide through. Carol was the last rider through and she was bitten on the leg, whether it was because she was yelling and kicking out at them, or they had just had enough, who knows but I will maintain the same gliding strategy in future.

We saw lots more calves and lambs today, so it is clearly a planned strategy, not accidental. Also saw a field full of white herons, it had been watered and they were down on the ground.

We got to the hotel about 2pm. I needed to dry out my tent as it was wet from dew from last night. I went into the park across the road, and got a few curious looks from locals, wondering no doubt exactly what I was up to sitting on the grass with my tent in two layers spread out in front of me.

Tonight we are having dinner in the restaurant. When we arrived we had to make a choice – fish or chicken. I chose the fish as it comes with corn bread which I am very partial to. I hope I don’t get food envy when looking at the chicken.

Hotel Vila in Benavente

Categories: Cycling trip | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Day 75: Malpartida de Plasencia to Cáceres – 83k

5,933km down: 292km to go (95% of the way there!) Up 1,064 metres, down 1,054

I slept reasonably well last night. It was still dark at 7:30am, so after breakfast we had to wait for it to get light before we could leave. Hard to believe that only four weeks ago in Italy we were leaving at 6:30 in the morning to get some kilometres in before the heat.

The first part of the ride today was on a gravel and rocky road for 22k. We had great views from the top but it was a serious climb to get up there. We had to get up there more than once because the road not only kept going up but also back down as well. There were a couple of bits that I did not think I would get up as they were steep – 8% and 9% gradients – and my tyres were slipping on rocks.

View from the 22k gravel track

View from the 22k gravel track

I was pretty impressed with myself that I managed to get up without stopping, as some of the ups were long as well as steep and slippery. I would not have been able to ride this terrain without stopping at the beginning of the tour. Overall we climbed up 500 metres on the 22k gravel road.

Finally at the top of 22k gravel road with Esther

The brake pin from Brett’s bikes rear brakes came out, and he had to ride down the last gravel downhill plus another 34k to the lunch truck with only his front brakes – including down the spirally hills to the dam.  Once we got to the lunch truck he was able to put another set in. Gergo was on lunch so he helped as well.

Climbing up from the dam

We saw lots of cattle but the land they are on is very barren, the farmers give them hay to eat. We saw another cluster of eagles/condors, about 10 of them swooping and soaring above a field.

It was hot and after the gravel road my legs were tired so I was pleased it was only a 83k day. The last stretch seemed long, it was hot, and there was a head wind. It was nice to see Gergo in the lunch truck at the top of a rise about 10k from town with oranges for us.

The hotel tonight is nice – and not undergoing renovations. I had a rest and then a meal in the square just outside the hotel. When we arrived most of the shops were shut up as it was siesta time. The shops are shut between 2:30pm and 5:30pm, and then are open again until 8:30pm. The restaurants do not start serving dinner until 8pm.

I decided the laundry hunt could wait until tomorrow.

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Day 66: Arnes to Canizar de Olivar – 116k

5,219km down: 1,006km to go  (Up 1,478 metres, and down 943)

I had another dreadful night’s sleep, the Italian family at the campsite before Genoa had nothing on their Spanish counterparts. There were people drinking when we got to camp about 2:30pm, and still going after midnight. One particular woman had a great parenting technique, every 20 minutes or so she would scream at the top of her voice something that sounded like “Harriieee!”. Also it was really hot again in the tent. So far this half of the trip I have slept every camping night in a tent but my resolve is quickly waning.

The day started off with us being served porridge for breakfast, which is always a sign that the day ahead will be challenging – usually we just have muesli. The good news was the first 50k was on a rail trail (www.montsport.es), the bad news was that there was 10k of it on a gravel road, and after that it was climbing for the rest of the day.

The rail trail was pretty good, a slightly up gradient but cool temperatures. The gravel road was challenging, it was more like stones and rocks.

Rail trail after it turned from rocks to gravel

We went through three tunnels, and yes my light chose now to die again.

Rail trail tunnel

The hills after lunch just went on and on, and up! We only had two small down hills the entire afternoon. It was hot too, the country is stark, the scenery was like the desert road – miles and miles of dirt, but instead of tussock grass we had dirt and olive trees!

Dirt and olive trees

At about 15k out from the finish I had had it, my legs were sore, and I was over it! I have to admit there were tears, but tears are not weak – giving up is, so on and on and on I went. At 11k out I came across the lunch truck again! For a moment I thought “Oh my god we haven’t even made it to the lunch stop yet!!”. But Esther realised that we were having a hard day and had stopped to refill water and give us watermelon. I have not yet mentioned the watermelon, it’s the highlight of the lunch stop each day, as it is instant sugar and fluid.

The road went on and on

And on and on some more

I finally got to the last turn, and it was a 2k ride downhill to camp. And yay – a campsite with grass, I should actually be able to get my tent pegs in. And the toilet has soap and toilet paper and toilet seats, plus a shower that stays on. I’m moving in. There were also hardly any other campers, so it should be a better night than last night. We had the riders meeting and got some daunting news about tomorrow – 120k with some big hills. I think it’s time to review what’s in my panniers.

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Day 53: Cannes to Aups – 101k

4,220km down: 2,005km to go

We set off in the convoy just before 7am this morning, the weather was not too hot to start with. At the end of the convoy we had a reasonable climb which certainly woke my legs up. There were some really pretty bays with some interesting rock red formations. There was even a bay called Miramar!

The first two hours of riding was peaceful and relaxed, through small villages and along the seaside etc. We stopped for coffee and a croissant and then about 10k later the flag took us onto a crazy busy highway. We had a traffic policeman shouting something at us, we thought we must have got onto a motorway (the day when we were going into Cannes we took a wrong turn and ended up heading up a motorway on-ramp before a policeman spotted us and turned us around) but turned out he just wanted to warn us there was an oversize load coming. Luckily we had pulled off the road and were discussing what he may have been telling us, because certainly we had no idea what he had said.

Crikey going into the crazy intersections definitely got the heart rate up, thankfully after half an hour most of the traffic turned onto the motorway toll road! The turns and directions and getting more challenging by the day, today the roads we needed to follow were D6908, D559, D928, D07, D1555, D557, D60. As well as this we climbed 1,114 metres (and went down 644).

We did really well with the directions until about 75k when we missed a flag down the bottom of a steep hill – I was concentrating on cornering. We did not realize for about 15k that we had missed it, until we came to a town that was not on our list and had no flags. I was not keen to go back 15k and then we saw a sign to Aups 10k, so we decided to keep going as that was the town we were going to, and we figured we could find the camp once we got to town. So we only ended up doing an extra 4 k 🙂

The camp – once again – has no toilet paper or soap, it but does have Wifi and a bar – you can’t have everything, including shampoo which I had left at the hotel in Cannes 😦 So I had to wash my hair with soap. I have to say I actually felt pretty good afterwards. I stayed up until about 10pm in the hope of sleeping better; at least the camp site is pretty quiet, not filled with Italian families well rested from a siesta.

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Day 18: Augustów to Nowogrod – 135k

1,702km down: 4,523km to go.

I rode with John today. When we set out it was nice and cool, riding through tree lined roads, even though the Tarmac was uneven and had pot holes, then 5k of dirt roads and then uneven with potholes for rest of the day, apart from a stretch about 3k at the very end. By the end of the day it felt like every bone in my body had had a really good shake. At one point I commented to John just as well we don’t have false teeth – you would hear the clack clack clack as we rode along.

Up until lunch time at the 70k mark it had been mostly a slight downhill gradient, and mainly through forest, apart from one short hair-raising stretch on a main highway. After lunch it was uphill gradient in the open and baking sunshine for about 40k. We went through lots of small towns, just about every third house has some sort of shrine outside with a crucifix and ribbons and fresh flowers, we are not sure of the significance. We asked Yarn, he is Canadian but his family comes from Poland and he speaks pretty good Polish but he was not sure either. The houses are newer and there are a few fences. We also saw the first public phone box since leaving home. There were still lots of really impressively large gardens. Poland is 98 percent Roman Catholic so having a Polish Pope was a really big thing and there are lots of statues of him and a number of new churches.

The temperature got to about 35 degrees today. We stopped at the local store in one of the small towns for a cold drink and attracted the attention of a number of the locals, they were asking John questions and giving me chocolate, luckily Yarn and Danya turned up just after us and Yarn was able to talk to them. They were pretty impressed with the extent of our bike ride, just then we were joined by Dan, Michele and Bret. The local men were then determined to get the guys out the back drinking Vodka but in the end they had to be content with giving them a bottle to take away as a gift from the village.

That night accommodation had been organized at the local college (called a Gymnasium) which turns into a youth hostel for fund raising in the 3 month summer break. The woman were in what is a Geography classroom on the first floor in 7 dormitory style beds, the men were across the hall all 11 of them in a maths classroom. The toilets were down on the next floor and there was a shared shower facility. All I can say is if this is planned again I will get alternative accommodation if I can, it was a dreadful. Although I have paid for the single supplement so I do not have to share, this only kicks in for the rest days.

The male dorm room, photo from the blog of another rider on the trip

The power outlets were all disabled so my phone ran out of charge and so after awhile I could not listen to the music on my phone with headphones. One of the women snored, the noise from the male dorm was a mixture of chainsaws and coughing, the town dogs barked until early morning when the rosters took over. Add to that the locals doing wheelies, a hot temperature, and duvets that would keep you warm in winter with no sheets, it was not a great experience. Because the school aka youth hostel had no cooking facilities we ate out at a local restaurant paid for by the tour. The food was really good but due to the level of exercise being done most of the riders could have eaten double. We had a chicken breast stuffed with cheese, pickle and tomato and two small mounds of white rice and a sliver of lettuce. A number of people stayed and paid for dessert, however I was quite full as had eaten my take away sandwich at about 4pm.

At lunch time I can only manage one sandwich but then if the ride is longer than 100k I get hungry at about 3pm, so I have got into the habit of making a takeaway sandwich and putting it in a snap lock bag for later. The rye bread is very dense – we joke that if you were drowning and you grabbed onto a piece it would surely drag you under. It does however stay in your stomach and keep you full for quite some time.

Most days I get to camp by about 3 to 3:30pm, but the last riders do not usually get in until 6pm. Rob and Gen (her name is actually Genevieve) are later because they take their time to explore, and Walli is much slower. It makes it a long day when we set off at 7:30am each day.

In my last update I said Dayna had had an accident – she hit the kerb the wrong way when going up onto the pavement and she fell off and scrapped her knee and got a cut above her eye that needed stitching – luckily in the eyebrow line. This is not great, not just because it is sore but also because on Friday she is meeting some of Yarn’s Polish family for the first time. This is the couple who were married on June 30th this year and are spending 3 months doing this bike trip as their honeymoon.

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Photo update – Estonia

The pot holes – but they were much worse than this photo

Every town you come out of has this sign to let you know have left the town

Signs to look out for moose – sadly have yet to see one

A stork – there are heaps of them here, the locals encourage them as they believe they bring good luck. So they often build nests for them like this one, others nest on chimneys. Today I went past a nest and saw three fledgings practicing flying.

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