Champagne of Rides

I’m somewhere in the middle of what looks like nowhere, with a tingle of excitement at the thought of riding my bike in the Champagne region of France. So much so, I had already researched and planned a few cycle routes in the area. Wine and cycling what’s not to like?

Driving my campervan, heading towards Epernay a landmark town of the Champagne region, I was surprised by the vastness of the vineyards. Row after row, evenly spaced, equal in height, kilometre after kilometre, planted in a way to maximise the kiss of the sun; ripening up my favourite fruit. However it’s the wine I love and not so much the munching of grapes! Every few hundred metres, small signs were located at the end of a trellis, marking out the territory of some very familiar champagne houses, Viv Clicquot, Moet Chandon and Tattinger. Champagne has a very big ego!

I soon discovered I’d held a naive view about the wine industry which, when summed up was, picking and squashing grapes, barrels, red or white, buy at the supermarket, drink, enjoy. What I saw quickly changed those out-dated perceptions. The industrialisation of Champagne making and harvest-time was a major logistical event. The tiny back roads which I’d already pre -planned to cycle had white transit vans, scattered across the vineyards like hundreds-and- thousands sugar sprinkles. Shuttling pickers to the vinyards, transporting crates of grapes back to the ‘champagne house’ for instant mechanical crushing. Not a pair of hairy feet in sight. The whole process takes less than a few hours, even though each bunch of grapes is hand-cut and handled with the tenderness of a new-born baby.

I quickly decided it was not a good idea to ride my bike along those roads whilst the number one activity was ‘le harvest’. So plan B, cycle along the River Marne, one day west and east the next.

Off I set along a side path where the gardens of several champagne houses backed onto the river. My tyres were sticking to the tarmac where the juice from the grapes had dripped from the emptied grape crates, leaving a reddish coagulated residue. The smell in the air was humming like the morning after a house party. I was filled with fizzy excitement as I was also on a mission to buy champagne for my daughters’ twenty-first birthday.

I cycled along the river’s path, where many vineyards sloped down to within metres of the rivers deep, slow flowing water. I cycled past many travelers’ make-shift camps, pristine white caravans where families lived whilst they came to the region to earn a living. I guessed those travelers returned every year. It was easy to see why the vintners needed transient labour, as grapes for champagne making are ‘picked by hand’, no machines.
After twenty peaceful but flat miles, I got bored! So, decided to swoop up to a small village in hope of a brew or a shop. A short but very steep slope and I finally had to do some work on my bike. My tyres were sticking to the road again and I’m overtaken by another trailer laden with crates of my favourite fruit, grapes. The trailer turns into the one of the many champagne houses lining the road and I see a monsieur opening a big old wooden door leading into the grape crushing area. The familiar smell of sweet sticky grapes filled the pocket of air close to the house. And, I sensed I had witnessed a deep-rooted love of nature and man working together.

The village was a ghost town, hardly a soul to be seen, not a coffee to be drunk or pain au chocolat to be eaten. Those grapes, not people, were everyone’s centre of attention. I  doubled-back on my route along the river. I find riding along rivers can get boring after a while, and I was disappointed that ride didn’t have the fizz I was expecting.

I still had the mission to buy champagne for my daughter’s 21st birthday. Choosing a champagne house was daunting, because there was so, so, many of them. I had no idea what made a good champagne other than it tastes good. I randomly chose a house, Bonnet – Ponson, knocking on the door that stated ‘reception’ and was warmly greeted by a young lady speaking very good English. I buy a few bottles, then I’m escorted by the lady to the vineyard where the grapes were grown. I snap a photograph of the ‘terroir’ and my mission was accomplished.

It’s a little unique story, that I planned to share with my daughter as we sipped the Champagne on her special day. I was flooded with lots of thoughts of motherhood and special memories of cycling together when she was younger. Including watching the final stage of 2012 Tour de France on the Champs-Elysees, Paris. A golden year for Bradley Wiggins and British cyclists. Standing at the finish line we watched a moment of cycling history as Mark Cavendish won his fourth and most prestigious sprint win; the final of le tour. He pulled-up directly in front of us as he was hailed victorious by his Sky teammates and that special beam of victory smile, which I’ve witnessed many times before beamed across his face that said, ‘just another day at the office’. All lavished with hundreds of British supporters cheering team Sky, much to the annoyance of the French (tee hee).

My three loves in life are, daughter, bike, wine. They all bring me great pleasure. My bike never answers me back, unlike my daughter, and wine is an easy companion. If I were the one blowing out the candles my birthday wish would be that, one day she might come join me on a ride, mum and daughter side by side spinning our wheels to the rhythm of our chitter-chatter. Joy!

Lest We Forget 

I’ve brought together three rides I did in France and Belgium which exposed me to the timeless reminders of the First and Second World Wars. Don’t rush this blog, go find somewhere quiet to ponder the wonder of your liberty to, cycle or do daily life.

Lac de Nantua 
It’s a small lake tucked in Ain, Rhone Alps. I visited here when I was 17, an unplanned visit due to my brother-in-law’s truck breaking down whilst he, me and my sister were on our way to Italy for a holiday. In a truck I hear you ask? Yes, in a truck! I was enticed back to see what mini cycling adventures could be had after I noticed Nantua was a ‘depart’ town for the 2017 Tour de France.

A quick visit to the Office de Tourism where they happily handed over a cycle  map with routes and some TDF memorabilia.

I cycled to Oyonnax, a small town where the climbing begins. I struggled to navigate to the start of the climb, so visit number two to the Office de Tourism. Where the lady assistant looked at me a  little perplexed when I explained I wanted to go to ‘Col du Sentier’. She then double checked; ‘You really wanted to cycle up there? Its very steep and a long way’, she said. ‘ I know’, I replied. She pointed me in the right direction but I still had no bloody clue where  to find the road I needed. After circling the streets and following signs for ‘tout direction’ several times,  I eventually found it.

The climb started immediately from leaving Oyonnax from flat to 5% so I had to quickly adjust my rhythm and spin my pedals to find a comfortable cadence.

 I soon became the guest of a deep thick forest of pine trees. It was so, so quiet. The silence made my presence amplified and I began to feel ‘alone’. I was alone…but I like it that way, it’s just me and nature intertwined. An ‘I’m in the moment’ feeling washed over me knowing little me was the ‘guest’.

After a good half hour up-hill peddling I’m feeling hot and bothered. Spotting a memorial I decided this would be a safe place to take a break.  I read the memorial’s plaque and deciphered, the murders of several Jews; taken into the deep forest were shot and disposed of. This was chilling to read. My heart felt their deepest fear as I grasped what it may of have been like to be taken into the thick forest knowing what was your fate. The forest was the innocent keeper of a ‘cruel moment in time’ whilst  the memorial ensured, we don’t forget.

Yet there I was, a woman on my own.   With no concern for fear or safety and at total liberty to enjoy the climb and the fabulous descent with views of Lac du Nantua.

Battle of Arras 1917
This years’ armistice day will mark a hundred years since the Battle of Arras which was a British offensive on the Western Front, France during World War One.  The battle cost nearly 160,000 British lives.

It’s one of those potential pissy wet days but I did not want to postpone my ride around the battle fields and military cemeteries of the Western Front. However, before I reached the outskirts of Arras the heavens opened and the winds were strong. Neither being a good combination for riding out in the flat open roads where the cross winds are a potential hazard to a cyclist. As I was already kitted up for rain, my theory of once you’re wet, you’re wet and I should  continue riding but just explore the town.

The town has many graphic reminders of its importance during both World Wars. I happened upon the Faubourge d’Amiens cemetery and memorial. Feeling a little self conscious in my cycling gear I un-clipped and propped up my bike with helmet on the outside wall.

Row after row of pristine white crosses drew me deeper into the cemetery, the graves were calling out to have their names read. The memorial walls commemorate nearly 35,000 soldiers with no known graves, killed in the battle fields. The sheer number of names was overwhelming to see.  It’s difficult to reconcile all those names and deaths with the peace we have today.

I continued to ride in the drizzly rain, zigging round the narrow lanes of Arras which is more Belgium in style than a typical French town. I came across the Wellington Tunnels and booked myself on a tour later that afternoon. There, I was immersed twenty metres to under ground tunnels, which are described as ‘one of the most secret military places in history’. 20,000 soldiers of the Commonwealth prepared the largest surprise attack of World War One.  Every twist and turn of the tunnels revealed the amazing bravery, skill and determination of the soldiers who were chiseling the tunnels or sat waiting for battle. The tour holds nothing back and the cold damp air and stillness of the tunnels was a sharp contrast to what the soldiers  faced once the tunnels were opened; seeing the bright day light hit their eyes just moments before they went into battle.

Many never survived the battle of Arras. This was a soggy day in the saddle  in many ways!

And then… next day its sunny and dry and I head out once again on a cycle tour of the Western Front, Flanders Field. Wide flat open landscape… peaceful! It was hard to imagine the fields and the roads I cycled upon had been ripped up and shelled beyond recognition. My cycle ride started in Bergues, France, across the fields onto Hondshoote and Wormhoudt over the Belgium border to Veurne.

Passing through Wormhoudt there is a memorial to the massacre of 80 British and French POW’s by the German Waffen-SS. As well as, several signposts directing to military cemeteries. Other than these signs, its was very quiet and peaceful as I weaved in and around the country lanes, passing through small picturesque villages. Silence prevailed.

Then I began my loop back along the coast road towards Bray Dunes the last border French town. Then a few more miles along the cycle path I arrived at Dunkirk; one of the most significant towns and battles of World War Two. I’m sure you know the significance of its history and the evacuation 338,000 soldiers. It was hard to imagine one of the most heroic events of history unfolding on the very beach I was standing on.

Fifty flat miles later I felt empowered and humbled that I was able and fearless enough to pick up my bike and point it in any direction and ride at liberty.

Lest we forget!

Goldilocks of climbs Col du Lautaret…not too steep, not too long, it’s just right.

Touchdown in Briancon, Hautes Alps, France, I instantly got a welcoming feel for the love of cycle tourism. Firstly, I was greeted with over-head road signs boasting the area’s three famous Col climbs; Col du Lautaret, Col du Galibier and Col d’Izoard, firm favourites with both the Tour de France and the many cyclists peddling about the town. The round-abouts had extra extra large, green, red and yellow bicycles perched on them as an additional reminder.  

My cycle fitness was not at any sort of peak due to a lack of training and my resentfulness and refusing to cycle in the peeing rain in the UK. However, I knew I could ride my bike and turn my pedals regardless; cycling is in my DNA and the figures for the climb were not intimidating. Col du Lautaret average gradient 3% maximum gradient 5% cycling 28 kilometres.

It was a lovely day; not a cloud in the sky. Sounds like a cliché, but the weather can change so quickly in the mountains. Temperatures at the bottom of a climb can be many degrees warmer in sharp contrast to the top where it can be cold with strong chilling cross winds. I thanked mother nature for giving me a big fat lovely weather reward in compensation for all the rain in the UK. I must be getting soft in my older age as I now no longer go ride my bike in the wind, rain or cold weather of the UK. 

The gradient started so low I hardly noticed I was climbing for the first few kilometres. My heart rate kept steady and didn’t do what it normally does when I just look at a mountain; thud, loudly. Scaring the padding out of my cycle pants that I’m going to have a heart attack. None of that!

The climb was well sign posted with little reminders on the side of the road of what gradient you are climbing and how many kilometres you have completed. I welcomed these little signs as they help with the motivation. ‘It’s only 5%’ I tell myself and then make a psychological comparison with some other big climb I have done. 

I cycled out of the last village, which had an obsession with zebra crossings. I tried not to stop or un-clip my pedals, weaving around the hikers crossing the road with artisan bread tucked under their arms. More epicurean distractions ensued, including several patisseries and a glimpse of a shiny strawberry tart alongside the smell of roasting chickens. Then! The climb jumped up a few percent and the vastness of the breath-taking scenery opened up in front of me. 

It’s a wide Col with glacial mountains on one side. Cycling in a gentle rhythm my mind got to wander off and I’m soon asking myself deep and meaningful questions, like; How long had the snow been there? How long did that glacier take to form? The huge openness of the Col emphasised my insignificance, sensing that my time on this planet was so small in comparison. But lucky me I thought, as I felt one of my ‘shivers of blessed joy’ at just having the experience of cycling the Goldilocks of Cols. 

Goldilocks weaved a lot of ‘just right’ into this Col. The road is wide with plenty of room for both cars and riders, this is a big bonus for these types of mountain climbs. It’s not too steep as to make it a hard slog. Every couple of kilometres a new vista opens up with full glacial delights.

In the distance I spot a tunnel which is ‘near the top’. I kept it in my vision alternating between looking at my very grey, once white, cycle shoes and looking at the tunnel ahead. Both helping me to stay focused and ignore the first signs of fatigue in my un-fit legs. 

Reaching the tunnel, I took a quick break and was greeted by, another range of glaciers, the final little road side marker stating one kilometre to go and a mountain restaurant. All giving me the final motivation to get to the top. 

The last little push to the top and I noticed the road sign indicating turn right for ‘Col du Galibier’. Panning my eyes, I tried to follow the road but it eventually disappeared, swallowed up by the steepness of the mountain. The few cyclists taking the right turn soon became like tiny ants.  Again their outlines lost in the vast nakedness of the mountain range. I said to myself ‘I wish I could do that climb’ but knew my fitness was not up to that beast. 

Feeling chuffed with my first big 2017 climb, I treated myself to another Goldilocks’ delights – an almond tart, topped with meringue. The mountain top restaurant was a mecca for cyclists so as I tucked my way through the tart, I sat in the alpine sunshine watching many more cyclists complete the ascent.  Then watching them making the same mad dash as I did to capture their moment in time photo-finish of the ‘Col du Lautaret’ sign fixed to a giant metal cycle painted with red polka dots: King of the Mountain. No doubt posted on Facebook within minutes, instantly sharing their cycling endeavours! And ‘why not’ I thought to myself. 
The descent was more than wonderful, no hair pin bends and the road surface was in good condition. The only thing I had to be wary of was my own lack of concentration as I could not stop myself soaking up the scenery whilst mini-me hurtled back down the mountain on two slithers of black rubber.

The following day, I decided I should do the ride again as I needed to get fit and do some training. It was just a pleasurable and after ride number two I knew I had banked some stamina for the rest of my 2017 cycling trip. 

The Col du Lautaret is an ideal climb for anyone new to cycling in the alps. Even Golidlocks would find this climb ‘just right’.




Tunnel of love: the Italian way

To get you in the perfect mood for this ride go turn the oven on, full blast and sit close to it so you feel the full intensity of the heat. At the same time imagine you are sat next to the most irritating person you know and you can’t escape their company.
I’m touring and cycling the Lakes of Italy, Como, Garlate and Iseo. It’s hotter than hot and mosquitoes are biting. My body is resembling the Tour de France red polka-dotted king of the mountain jersey. My only hope of finding a cooling breeze and get out of the mosquitoes’ flight path was to go on a bike ride. However, having only spent a few days cycling in Italy the thought of cycling the Italian roads again was as equally irritating as the mosquitoes.
Here’s why..
I noticed being Italian is about being ‘on-the-edge’. The houses are build right-up-to the edge of their lakes, their mountain properties and churches are perched right-on-the-edge of rock cliffs. AND Italian drivers will also push you right-to-the edge of the road, within an inch of their cars or lorries. It is ‘their’ normal.. being-on-the edge. Lago di’Iseo’s roads were no different from the other Italian lagos; Como and Garlate roads  with busy on-the-edge traffic although, slightly less on the west side of Lago di’Iseo due to the road not being lorry friendly.
And there I was also, on-the-edge of heaven.  In a small really cute village, with a memorable and tantalising name of  Lovere. It had enough buzz to make it cosmopolitan and enough charm to make it traditional. As I sat drinking cappuccino coffee listening to the splish-splosh of the lake’s waves, I counted a steady stream of cyclist passing by. They are all kitted up in pristine Castelli cycling gear, head to toe, the white giving off a ‘DAZ’ whiter than white glow, contrasting with some beautifully tanned and toned legs and bums. So Italian coolio.
I could sit here and write about all sorts of up-hill puffing and panting, but this ride was perfect in every sense, the road hugged the lake, the views were more than magnificent, breathtakingly distracting.
But (there’s always a but) I was still irritated and could not soak up the views or ride freely because the road condition was so poor. It had clearly been a long time since any Roman road building centurion had surveyed those roads. The drivers still had the side swipe mentality, and then there were new types of road furniture to contend. The tunnels!
I came to a tunnel 1km in length and noticed there was no other option for me or pedestrians, we too had to go through the tunnel alongside cars and lorries bashing through at 50mph plus. There I was once again on-the-edge of Italian mentality driving; cars first, pedestrians second. This was no tunnel of love. I typed out a letter in my head, Chris Boardman campaigning style, factual, to the point to the local di’Lago council. ‘Shame on you for making people have to walk and cycle through that tunnel with cars and lorries, blah blah blah’. At the same time a father and young son on bikes over-took me whilst in the tunnel. ‘It’s just their normal’ I thought, whilst swearing to myself.
I continued for several kilometres, then turned round to go back which included the dreaded not in love tunnel! Once again, I’m overtaken by cyclist. ‘Bugger’, I thought.. so whacked my gears onto the big ring and started to put some power into my bike to catch up the rider. I sat on his tail for a while and he kept looking back at me, and then doing a little speeding up, and then he’d look again, was I still there.. on his wheel? Whilst I’m checking out his Italian brown legs. He speeds up again and I tried to keep on but had to let him go as he got too fast.
He then gave me a flick..of the hand.. get back on! Wow, I thought and he kept adjusting his speed to help me keep the pace exciting and me just tethering on his wheel . ‘Bloody marvelous’ I thought, ‘just what I needed’. It felt fantastic picking up the speed whilst trying to exchange names with this Italian guy. Swerving round tight bend after bend with the lake on my side, the rock cliffs canvassing my head, that had been blasted to make space for the road.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “Love”, I replied. “Lovere”, he repeated. ‘Is this start of a love story’, I thought to myself. ‘No! You are sweaty and have dead mosquitoes and flys on your helmet, hardly attractive!’ So, I sat on his wheel for about 15k, the pace was killing my legs but I was loving every twisting turning cliff dropping kilometre of it.
We arrived at Lovere. He put his hand out and clasped mine… that gesture really touched me,  a sign of cycling love and respect which flushed through my heart.
“Ciao, addio”, we both chanted as the smooth cadency of his pedals rode him off out of view.

Col de la Colombiere so good I did it twice

Tucked high up in the mountains, Le Grand-Bornand is the village where the start of the Col de la Colombiere climb begins. To get there, you firstly have to take a sharp turn from the road lapping the ice green-blue waters of Lake Annecy and head up the mountains of Haut-Savoie.
Coming to cycle the mountains of France after cycling the hills of the UK, it is easy to compare the terrain. In the UK the hills tend to be, shorter but steeper in gradient in comparison with the mountain climbs of France. Which, whilst, often of a lesser gradient they go on for so much longer, this is what makes cycling up them a whole new challenge, they can go on and on and on with relentless climbing.
Cycling up the Col de la Colombiere with the gradient not so, so steep I was able to keep to a rhythm; a slow one but one where I did not have to do that nodding donkey look of pushing hard on the pedals with my whole body following through on each stroke. I simply could let my legs do all the hard work and make it look semi-easy, although, it was anything but easy. Being high up in the mountains the air is thinner and the altitude impacted my breathing, sapping my energy.
The grass is greener
Truely! It is greener, not because life is magically better up in the mountains but because the the sun becomes so much more intense the higher up you go; making the colours of the pastures a vivid green.
Along the roadside alpine flowers were in bloom. Their colours and vibrancy are nature’s paracetamol, taking away the pain of the long climb and soothed all the boring stuff going on in my head. I’m in ‘ the moment’ and I am a bit of an addict of being in ‘ the moment’ and lap up my visual high.
Reaching the final bend of this 1619 meter altitude climb, the last kick to the top has a little sting in it’s tail as the gradient ramps up, ‘come on’ I told my legs, ‘come on we can do this’ whilst sucking in deeply the thinnest of air into my lungs.
At the top I’m greeted by many French cyclists who had also completed the climb but from the other side. A French cycling club, all proudly wearing their club’s maillot colours; summited and proceeded to give congratulatory high five’s and many ‘tres bon’ were awarded. I watched this camaraderie whilst recovering in the summit cafe. I had a pang of jealousy because the French are not only good at bread n cheese they can also ride up this big stuff. They are brought up on it!
11,000 cyclists on Etape du Tour
Thousands of amateur cyclist from all over the world take part in this event, riding under the same conditions as the professionals, riding one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France, in closed traffic. The 2016 route happened to go over the Le Grand Bornand and I was on the door-step so decided I would go cheer.
I’ve never seen so many cyclists in one event.. the only imaginable equivalent would be the surge of people running the London Marathon.. but on bikes, peddling up some steep and long mountain passes for pretty much most of the day. Watching the pain in those riders faces, I willed them on to complete the event. It was clear for many they had never ridden these types of mountains before, in the heat and at altitude. I could see that familiar look on their faces ; I paid to do this! And yet, other riders were making it look so easy!
I spent an hour stood by the roadside cheering in my Franglais accent as they kept coming by in their hundreds. I managed to spot a few friends who were riding and gave them a big gobby northern shout out.
The following day I decided I would do the climb again, I felt confident I could tackle this climb with a bit more vigor. Off I went, not holding anything back. Not saying I flew up the mountain I’d certainly did not but the second time the ride just became an even better experience.
And then the best bit
The descent was amazing second time around as I knew where the bends were and where I was able to let my bike roll. With the cow’s bells making their tingle-a- lings, echoing the gentle rhythm of chewing grass and mountain life’s tranquility, I let my bike go and just enjoyed the bliss of the moment.
High altitude smiling on the inside and the outside

Cycling it’s a pleasure pain thing

It’s that time of year again when I head to the airport, with a very large cardboard box. It’s so big, I stand out in the crowd, meeting many strange looks, eyes wanting to know. What’s that lady got in that box? Little do they know the love of my life is inside the box. My bicycle.

The adventurer that lives inside me is always looking for new roads to explore. This year it’s France. I head off in any direction that gives me opportunity to watch a stage or two of the Tour de France. I’ve also got it in my head I too will do a cyclist’s pilgrimage and cycle to the top of one of those big Tour de France mountain stages. Those climbs where the cycle pro’s play cat and mouse to the top and crazy crowds of keen cyclists irritatingly cheer or goad the riders with demonic enthusiasm.

Two days after watching Chris Froome, 2016 Tour de France winner, being catapulted off his bike and damaging it. With every second counting he had only one option; start running until a back up bike was given to him. This is the excitement of the mountain stages. So I decided that Mont Vontoux was ‘The One’ I was going to cycle up. A simple decision but with big consequences. I’ve always had big ideas and I’m no good at dealing with failure so once I’ve made my mind up about something I become driven… stupidly driven! I’m in my fifties and I want to start cycling up categorised alpine mountains?

I’m excited and fearful and tell myself ‘your a crazy lady’.

It’s the day of my climb
My grand fantasy of being a great climber comes out to play ‘you can get up there’ I tell myself as I take my first glimpse of the famous white weather tower sitting on the top. The cycle ride is an average gradient of 7% and a maximum of 11% with a distance of 22km to ride and a height gain of 1610m. As soon as I start peddling the word hill quickly becomes insignificant and the word ‘col’ becomes new to my vocabulary. My legs began telling me ‘there is a huge difference between a big hill and a col.’ The climbing became relentless, with every hairpin bend revealing more of the road that is carved into the mountain side. The temperature is into the high twenties, with a double waft of heat bouncing back off the mountain’s rocks.

When I usually ride my bike I become increasingly relaxed and begin to feel more connected with Mother Nature. My mind gets to wander off and contemplate my ‘thought of the day’ but Mont Vontoux was giving me no such pleasure as my thoughts became filled with the pain in my legs, the lactic surging my veins and self-doubt and fear of failure. My body was screaming stop. So I did. Several times!

I was determined to get to the top even if it took all day. I was passed by other fellow cyclists who appeared to be in as much pain and difficulty as me. There’s a bond between cyclists, we share a secret desire for pleasure-pain. We love the freedom and every ride can be a mini adventure, a hero’s journey, one which we love to share with fellow cyclists. Not many other sports have this fellowship. These fellow cyclists gave me a cheer and waft of inspiration as we all tapped our pedals in our own rhythm and dealt with our pain.

I got additional inspiration by the thoughts all those Tour de France racers who had cycled up a few days earlier, their names painted on the tarmac by avid fans. An indelible reminder that I too was riding in their pleasure-pain, although it was a big relief knowing I didn’t have to win the stage!

The last six kilometres of the climb is known to be the toughest. It is here the road became exposed to a rugged mountain that looked more like a white desert, baron of any living thing, with a sheer drop adding a new layer of intimidation. There was no escaping the elements and the blazing heat gave my body even more to contend with.

I kept one thing in my sight, the white square weather tower standing on the top of the mountain. As it got closer my confidence grew, I was nearly there, I found a surge of energy to give me the last push to the top. The 10% gradient turned my legs to jelly but I continued to turn my pedals, slower than slow.

As I met the last hair-pin bend a few sightseers gave me a clap-of-hands and a well done cheer and that was all I needed to set me off crying. I had done it!

I was once again in my cycling heaven. Only two things left to do before I could enjoy a celebratory beer and that was to pay my respects at the Tommy Simpson memorial, then, descend the many hairpins back down…it was all pleasure from here.



Bums on seat

Bums on seats

I was out on one of my exploratory cycle rides tootling around the up-downy hills of Silverdale and Arnside; two gems in Lancashire’s coastline. The towns are situated  on the Morecambe Bay coastline, enveloped by the imposing hills and fells of Cumbria’s lake district.  I found myself facing a road sign indicating the road was a dead-end. Being the nosey bugger that I am, I carried on cycling and found to my delight there was nothing ‘dead’ about where the road led me to; as I’d ended up on a grass verge close to the edge of the sea. The view was so beautifully tempting I decided to get off my bike seat and swap it for a seat on a bench.

Territorial bums of seats
It can get a bit territorial when it comes to sitting on a bench. There’s a very British etiquette especially when other people are already sat on it. Take last week, my friend and I were at a public event and wanted to sit and watch the show. I noticed spaces to sit on the bench;  being polite I asked the young lady ‘could we too sit on the bench’. ‘Err I’m saving these spaces for some other people who are coming later’ she replied. ‘O’ I said, ‘we’ll just sit here for now and when your friends come, we’ll move’. ‘O well’ she muttered back, ‘they’ll be coming soon.’ In other words, she meant, no I could not sit there, they were her seats as  she’d got there first. I responded with my mature lady Queen Bee voice, ‘great, we will keep the seat warm until they come’ and promptly parked our bums on the bench.

Brief encounter
Whilst we Brits’ might silently protest at our ‘territory’ being invaded, we are usually far too polite to get up and walk away. And this opens up the opportunity for a brief encounter with a bench stranger or two. So, back to Silverdale. I parked my padded cyclists’ bum alongside a couple who were tucking into a foiled wrapped pile of butties, two butties each and six just-in-case butties; just-in case we get stranded by the tide, just in case we get stuck in traffic on the way home etc.

‘Hi’, was all I needed as an introduction and we soon began asking the usual questions. ‘Where you from’ I asked. ‘Preston’ they replied. ‘Me too’. ‘How did you get here’ they asked. ‘Cycled’ I said. ‘Wow’ they said, then proceeded to tell me how they had come on the Motorway and detailed every road they had taken to get to Silverdale. How uninteresting I thought! ‘Is the tide coming in or going out’ asked the wife, followed by a long discussion about the moon and the tide. We eventually agreed the tide was ‘going out’. They merrily carried on munching their butties whilst chatting. Whilst I, kept looking longingly at their pile of butties in the hope of a just-in-case a starving cyclist turns up buttie had my name on it. It didn’t. A natural pause came, a good opportunity to end my brief encounter.

I jumped back on my bicycle, headed off to Arnside in search of the Bakehouse located on the sea front. There’s a bench there where I often stop to sit and drink a coffee, soak up the majestic views of the Lakeland fells whilst demolishing a butter pie! If I am in luck a fellow cyclist might join me and we can have a good chin wag about how far we have cycled that day, ensuring I always round-up to the nearest ten to make me sound like a good cyclist!.

The Bay Cycle Way:  A stunning long distance route that takes you on a tour of Morecambe Bay (including Arnside), one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the UK.  Taking you from the south west coast of Cumbria to Glasson Dock in Lancashire, this route is a feast for the senses. I’ll write more about this route in another blog.

Cycling is like a box of chocolates
My favourite scene from the movie, Forest Grump, is when Forest is sat on a bench, waiting for a bus, alongside a lady who is a complete stranger. He randomly tells her, My momma always said, ‘Life’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’ And just like Forest, I too like to sit on a bench to contemplate the mystery and joy of life as well as talk to complete strangers and fellow cyclists.