Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Andy Pendred's Magnificent 7 - possibly the most epic guest blog ever

Before I let Andy's words do the talking I just wanted to introduce this frankly epic guest blog. I know I'm given to over excitement but this is one time where my words are truly justified. I was honoured to share 200 miles of the D2D ride with Andy, for most of us it was the height of our cycling achievement, for Andy it was training for this oh and of course puncture practise! I hope you enjoy this, I definitely did!

Triple 7 Tour 27th June to 3rd July 2015
7 countries, 700 miles in 7 seven days
Our plan was to cycle from Thrapston to Franche Comte in France to meet my parents who were on holiday there & to travel back with them, travelling through England, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland & France.
Our route was mapped & loaded onto my Garmin. Rack, panniers, bar & seatpost bags fitted & filled with the essentials & we were ready to go. Although neither Sam nor I had any experience of touring the ride averaged at 100 miles a day so how hard could it be?
Day 1 Thrapston to Harwich. 104 miles  https://www.strava.com/activities/334160255
I’d prebooked all our B&B accommodation & first night was to be aboard a Stena ferry sailing overnight to Hook of Holland. The weather was fine as we set off on familiar roads to Huntingdon where we joined a cycle path taking us to St Ives  & then alongside the guided bus route to Cambridge. All went well with a lunch stop at Clare then passing through the village of Cavendish which has been named after Sam’s cycling hero. The rest of the ride went really well riding mainly on country lanes & we arrived in Harwich where we watched our ferry sail in whilst eating some of the best fish & chips I’ve tasted. We boarded the ferry, showered ,changed & went on deck with a well earned beer as we set sail for Holland.
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Day 2 Hook of Holland to Vijlen. 142 miles https://www.strava.com/activities/335020358
The weather was still fine which was great as we had 140 miles to do but a headwind all day counteracted the flat route through Holland and Belgium. We hardly went on a road all day & when we did it had a dedicated cycle lane to ride on. All the road surfaces were smooth tarmac & put our home roads to shame. We cycled down past the massive docks of Rotterdam & over numerous purpose built bridges taking cyclists over major roads & railways. We came to a big river which Garmin said we were to cross but there was no bridge so after much head scratching we noticed some cyclists going into a glass fronted building which turned out to be a bike lift which took us down to a purpose built 2 lane bike tunnel under the river to a lift at the other end which took us back up & onto the cycle lane again, impressive stuff!  Holland was a strange place to cycle through, it seemed like a massive version of Center Parcs with all the bikes tracks & waterways. We passed the expected windmills & crossed two more rivers via small ferries. Our only problem (apart from the first of 3 punctures on the trip) was we were going slower than we expected. As we got to the end of the day hills started to appear & Garmin decided to send us on some very gravelly trails which slowed us more & we arrived at the B&B just before 9pm and knackered which a meal & a beer soon fixed. 
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Day 3 Vijlen to Luxembourg. 117miles https://www.strava.com/activities/335637226
Today’s ride through Belgium & Luxembourg was tough. The threatened heatwave had arrived & trying to drink enough was a problem we were to have for the rest of the tour. Not long after starting off my front tyre burst & we fitted an old spare we’d brought along.  Added to this was the climbing, it started as soon as we set off & never eased off until 90 miles into the ride. One massive climb from Eupen in Belgium saw us meet up with a German guy who cycled with us up to the highest point in Belgium at 700m – I hadn’t realised Belgium was as high – it even had a cross country ski station! Then came the hills of Luxembourg which I can only describe as Rutland on Steroids. It just seemed like a never ending series of sharp climb after sharp climb with no time to recover on the short downhills. The reward for all the climbing was the scenery – gorgeous all the way. We managed to find a bike shop in Belgium with possibly the most unhelpful person possible, I bought a new tyre & tubes but he didn’t want paying by credit card, then he didn’t want paying by debit card only cash which he reluctantly gave me a receipt for – I thought asking for a club discount wouldn’t go down well. To counteract this we were followed & stopped by a van driver who told us the road we were on turned to off road & he directed us onto a purpose built cycle route along a disused railway which made up for Belgian Bike Shop Man. It was 8pm when we arrived at the Youth Hostel we’d booked (yes they do take in old blokes too). It was basic but clean, but 22 euros each for a twin ensuite room, 3 course dinner & breakfast you can’t go wrong.

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Day 4 Luxembourg to Strasbourg. 117miles https://www.strava.com/activities/336284309
Today saw us head into Germany and finish in Strasbourg, France. The climbing looked to be better than yesterday, with some good chunks following rivers & canals but the temperature was rising with a high of 39oC. There was some great riding along the River Saar & Saaabrucken looked an interesting place. I was struggling with the heat, sweating buckets, craving cold coca-cola & not wanting to eat anything which in turn was leaving me tired earlier into each day’s riding. Needless to say Sam was taking it in his stride, leading me round, navigating & managing to outwit the Garmin by keeping us on roads when it wanted to take us off road. I also had the only crash of the tour today in Germany, clipping a kerb which fortunately saw me sprawl across the pavement & not into the traffic and torn bar tape, scuffed paniers & my pride were the only casualties! The scenery had started to change with it looking more mountainous as we headed through the Vosges National Park into the centre of Strasbourg passing the EU Parliament building on the way – which was deserted as it was Brussel’s turn to host those hardworking MEPs. Our B&B was in the old centre of Strasbourg which is a beautiful city which we wandered around in the evening, eating at a pizzeria, before stopping for late night biere et frites outside the cathedral – nothing but classy nosh for us! 
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did Sam lose a bet to have to wear those shorts?
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Day 5 Strasbourg to Hirsingue 99miles. https://www.strava.com/activities/337114266
The B&B we stayed at was excellent (as were all of them) Thankfully the breakfasts were massive with cereals, ham, cheese, yoghurts, bread, cakes & fruit crumbles! Washed down with juice, tea & coffee we made the most of fuelling up as it was so hot we didn’t feel like eating during the day. Today’s ride looked relatively easy with a gentle ascent for the whole route but temperatures hit 41C making it another slog along the Alsace wine route which was lovely taking us through the vineyards but at the same time brutal as there was no shade. Along the way we had the Vosges mountains as a backdrop & thankfully we weren’t going up them. We followed the Rhine for a while taking opportunities to cool off in it when we could. The buildings started to change & we saw loads of timbered houses which Alsace is famous for & also nesting storks on the rooftops. Towns of note were Colmar & Mulhouse with their old timber buildings & cobbled streets. We headed on to the village of Hirsingue to our B&B where we actually did get some classy nosh at a traditional French restaurant although washing it down with coke & beer perhaps let us down a bit!
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This was looking to be our toughest day yet, heading into the Swiss Jura Mountains with the heatwave set to continue. We left Hirsingue fuelled by another big breakfast and started climbing & basically carried on climbing all day. The temperature hit 40C & it became a case of stopping at every opportunity to get some cold drinks & refill our water bottles which were heating up quickly & drinking 40C water is not nice to say the least. At around 30 miles into the ride my legs went & it became a case of just trying to keep them turning. Sam did his best to drag me along but as anyone knows when your legs have gone you just have to plod on at your own pace so Sam ended up going ahead & waiting for me to catch up. We managed a couple of stops for food & the essential coca-cola fix. Mid afternoon the heat finally caught up with Sam as well  & we both stopped for half an hour in someone’s carport half way up a mountain to try to cool down a bit. The only problem was as soon as you stopped any breeze you got from riding stopped & the sweat just ran off you. We topped a couple of ‘Monts’ & usually we’d stop for a photo but we couldn’t be bothered so kept on pedalling. Places to refill water bottles became non existent & we resorted to dunking ourselves into water troughs & even filled the bottles at one trough when we were virtually out of water. By 7pm we started to climb the last Mont at Travers – 1200m at the top, but after half a mile I cracked & knew I couldn’t continue. We had an executive meeting & decided to get a train from Travers to our hotel in Sainte Croix and as the next day was only 50 miles we’d do some extra then to make up our 700 total. So onto the train which went for 2 stops then transferred to a bus due to line works & on to the end of the line where we’d catch another bus to Sainte Croix – simples! Not quite. When we reached the end of the line we had a 30 minute wait for our bus so decided to grab a quick salad at a restaurant. After our nice refreshing salad we waited for the 8.30 bus asking a bus driver if we were in the right place & assured that we were. 8.45 came but no bus & I started to wonder – Swiss stuff is always reliable so a late bus didn’t bode well. 9pm still no bus so time for another executive decision. We reset the Garmin for our destination the next day & decided to follow it in the hopes of finding a hotel en route. Surprise surprise the route took us up another climb by which time it was about dark & I was starting to wonder about sleeping rough in the mountains –what joy. Sam was apparently planning to ride through the night but I think that would have finished me off! The good thing was the temperature had dropped & made the climb easier & then we had a cool, nervy,dark descent down the other side into Les Verrieres. We asked at a garage if there was a hotel & they pointed us in the right direction. We arrived at the hotel just  as the owner was shutting up for the night but she soon sorted us a room & before we knew it we were tucking into a huge plate of charcuterie & frites washed down with coke & beer – result! A really tough day ended on a high, it looked like we would complete our challenge.
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Day 7 Les Verrieres to Le Frasnois. 42miles https://www.strava.com/activities/338387299
We woke once again to another boiling hot day & the last thing I wanted to do was get on my bike. It didn’t help by Sam telling me I looked like I’d been in hospital with the weight I’d lost – needless to say Sam had taken it all in his stride & was eager to get going. After stuffing down a traditional French breakfast of croissants, bread,coffee & juice I was feeling better & as we had only 40ish miles to do we set off at a quick pace. The first 20 miles was flatish so we were feeling good as we headed through the French Jura – a great area that has everything scenery wise – forests, rocky mountains,waterfalls & lakes – and great cycling roads with very little traffic. At around 30 miles we stopped at Foncine Le Haut for our first proper lunch of the trip – 3 courses , wine (we did swap the wine for coke – honest!) & coffee for 12 Euros. Refuelled again we set off to finish & reached the 700 mile point at a viewpoint looking across the gorge of the River Chevry.  The heat was once again relentless making you gasp for breath all the time but we were nearly there, one long steady climb left to the finish at Le Frasnois at 800m. As we came to the finish mum & dad had hung out balloons & a banner to welcome us & were hoping for us to finish arms aloft a la Tour De France but I was so shattered I just headed straight into the garage to collapse in the shade!
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So we’d made it, a trip that turned out to be much tougher than I ever imagined. Whether I’d done too much beforehand with a hilly 100 & the D2D 200 in the previous two weekends or whether it was just the relentless heat I’ll never know. What I do know is that I’m chuffed to bits to have done it. Nearly four years ago Sam pestered me to buy a bike to go cycling with him. Slowly but surely I got the hang of it, cycling with Sam & my uncle, eventually mustering up the courage to try riding in a group which gave me more confidence. Joining the C&D gang has been brilliant, keeping me cycling all year in all weathers. So a massive thank you to Sam in particular, & to the C&D riders, you’ve helped me to do stuff I’d never have thought I could do & I’d encourage anyone to give cycling a go.


Editors final note:
Andy that is a magnificent addition to my blog, thank you so much for sharing. You are an inspiration. I hope one day that Sam Lindsley and I will go on an adventure like this.
Happy Pedaling

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