Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Summing it all up?


It's an odd feeling of elation and let down when you finish a cycle tour and reach the destination you've been dreaming of for the past year. We opted to hit the Med at beyond Narbonne instead of Perpignan for a number of reasons, but felt that the 30 mile saving at the med end was more than ofset by the 100 extra miles we'd somehow accumulated over the whole trip. I think it was a harder test than we'd expected, hillier in the north - with roman roads that seemed to go on and up forever, as well as days of getting completely soaked on the Canal du Midi and others when we couldn't physically ride between 1 and 5 as temperatures hit 38c. Some days we flew, and our average of 75 was fine. I'd have to say that touring unsupported - with camping gear - places a hell of a lot more strain on you and the bikes. James and I suffered mechanical problems, which could have been avoided with a bike MOT before the ride. We were lucky to find help from strangers but we could've lost days or come unstuck on a back road at one of the hottest points of the day and that would have been distinctly unfunny.

We got tetchy with each other at times, and sometimes over trivial things but always made up and moved on. It's important to know before the ride that you can be honest with each other. We laughed a lot, and morale wise that's important. Bidon soakings were common and we all enjoyed victories in the 'make rules up as you go along' 'king of the mountains' and 'sprint (or 'burn') competitions. We were all strong and weaker on different days, but remembered the rule that the pace is determined by what everyone is capable of.

Jeff did a brilliant job of mapping our route and offering alternatives along the way. James's pragmatic contributions in this (avoiding detours to Jeffs beloved waterways) were important too. Penny's bursts of 'Men of Harlech' (even though he doesn't actually know the real words) on theCanal du Midi and in the hills spurred us on no end.

Both James and Jeff were mindful of the back problems I've had and (with the exception of the day they shoved lager into my bags en route to Lezay) did more than their share in terms of carrying provisions. James did the lions share of the tent packing for me, showing that it is possible to be both Welsh and a decent person.... We faced and overcame - or just cycled very rapidly away from - some terrible enemies. In James's case, he is possibly the only builder alive who doesn't enjoy the sun, and even on our arrival at Grisain, he was confronted with the deadliest of all molluscs, the oyster, when Jeff and Jane treated us to a plate of 'fruits de la mer'.
He just doesn't want to try them OK?

It was incredible to see the landscape changing every day as well as finding new wildlife and vegetation. Giant musk rats weighing up to 10 kilos and water snakes in the canal, flamingos in the marshes of Narbonne and wild deer on the run into Cognac. The vineyards, peach and kiwi groves, palm trees, fig and aloe vera as we got further south all told us we were a long way from Stoke on Trent. Crickets were everywhere and cacaphonous as we rounded the last hills leading to Narbonne, although we never actually saw one.

At the time of writing we've raised contributions of over £650 towards Douglas Macmillan Hospices, which we hope will eventally reach our target of £1500. Thanks to everyone who's sponsored us.