A Travellerspoint blog

June 2014

Monday 30th June raid d0


06.20 alarm
Head downstairs get some much needed coffee. Out to the vans with G (co-leader) to take hire bikes out of Shadowfax and onto the back of Frodo.

Vans all have names and colour coding: Frodo, big white van - blue; Shadowfax, smaller grey van- green; Sauron, big black van - yellow; Gandalf, smaller grey van - red; Lilly, mid white van - green and yellow striped; etc etc. To add to the namings, when you are with clients you tend to talk white/grey or front/back van only. With the colour coding, everything inside the van will have a sticker or be the colour of said van, seems a little odd but it stops thinks from migrating. I have worked mostly with Frodo and Shadowfax and I have a soft spot for Frodo. Shadowfax is the more powerful of the two but Frodo gets there and is a tad more reliable. It was Shadowfax that broke down the other week, Lilly too.

07.15 Bikes attached G heads off to do the Toulouse transfer.
I head back to the gite for more coffee and to check directions, shopping list, to tidy up and make sure I have everything.
Normally we would both be heading off early but this week most clients are making their own way to the start. G has two pax from TLS, I have 3 from Biarritz (poss 4). 6 independents. Very nicely allowing me a bit of a breather this morning and also time to enjoy some Ninjago.

09.15 leave Pech for St Giron's for petrol and shopping, and breakie. Low transfers means there is a bit of time to play with today.

Stop in St Giron for petrol and shopping. Gotta love shopping with other people money and buying absolutely loads of cake, sweeties, nuts, crisps, chocolate..and to at least try and look a little healthy buying the shop out of bananas and oranges.

15.00 transfers arrive at the airport. Pack them up and head/to Hendaye and the rest of the group. My notes from HQ said 3 pax and 3 pax..what was actually there was 4 pax and 2 bikes..close enough! Very little/luggage though which I am very happy about- part of the service is to put people luggage in their rooms each day, which is fair enough until you see the size of some of their bags.

Back in Hendaye - room keys allocated, hire bikes put back together and handed to clients, food sorting and bike box wedging. Little hicup in this afternoon being one guy came on the trip with a broken spoke. In theory he should have sorted it before getting to us but anyhoo...our spare wheels don't fit as its a 10 speed ours an 11. I took the guy over to Spain to a bike shop but Spain being Spain was having a fiesta of some sort. Everybody..literally everybody ..was in white and red clothes, some carrying rifles. God knows what they were up to, but most of the roads were shut and people were parked/all over the place so it was really unlikely that the shop was open.

Just googled it..it is the Alarde Irun..when the Spanish celebrate their many victories over their French neighbours. The people are split into groups with an allocated barmaid and a General. One gets the drinks and when the other shouts a command they all stampede out and shoot their guns. Gotta love the Spanish.

17.45 finally get some down time. Spending that writing this and preparing for the welcome briefing. Realised had kinda missed breakie and lunch. Though have snacked on some raisins, nuts and fruits from the van. There will be a huge dinner tonight so not really an issue.

18.30 welcome briefing and drinks. G and I introduce ourselves and talk through the week with the clients.

19.30 dinner with the group. A huge amount of food for the cyclists to start with the carb loading. Far too many tempting assortments of puddings to be able to exercise any kind of willpower. Dinner is a good time to try and guess how people will be on the trip and how they will fare. We have quite a mixed bunch so I think it will be an 'interesting' trip whatever happens.

After dinner sorting the last two hire bikes out for a couple who are doing this for their honeymoon. It wouldn't be my first choice of honeymoon destinations but each to their own.

22.00 all done and time to crash out. Thankfully no garmin homework on this trip.

Posted by louisebenn 13:12 Archived in France Comments (0)

Sunday 29th June


So I watched Gladiator..on video (how old skool!!) It was as good as I remember ..made me cry but that may have been the wine. Deleted yesterdays blog post by mistake so had to write it all over again. Damn wine.

That pesky wine also gave me a hangover this morning..damn French wine! Don't get hangovers with Spanish wine.. and I have tested that theory many a time. Not a great start to the day, and industrial strength Spanish ibroprufen was called for. Gradually it subsided but was replaced with a big old bag of nerves about the upcoming trip. Without any distraction around to get rid of those I did the only sensible thing and went back to bed. A couple of hours later all good, and even better I looked out the window and the vans were there! Time for some van flaffing to make things all right in the world again. An hour later, two very organised vans and a very relaxed me.

Caught some of Glastonbury on YouTube..I don't envy them the weather and mud. Aside from that today has been about trying to pack one pannier for a whole month on the road..not an easy task, though to be fair I have limited clothes to fill it anyway. Ironically my bag now has more cycling clothes in it than anything else..all for 1 days cycling in the Pico's and a couple of training rides before (need to learn how to use those SRAM gears).

I have had a few people 'complain' that I have not been blogging daily while in France. To be honest it has been incredibly hard to, all waking hours are taken up working plus blogging actually takes quite a bit of effort or a lot of booze.... But to give you an idea of what life is like on a trip I am going to try and write at least a brief description of each day for this upcoming Raid...WiFi allowing. I could start today as we have the luxury of this evening, whereas normally the below would all be done the morning of the trip..so aside from van flaffing, we had a little meeting to run through the transfer logistics. A very important part to get right as they can be quite complicated and obviously the clients first interaction with the company. Tomorrow though its relatively straight forward. Hire bikes have to be sorted, checked and labeled. Money and phones sorted. And generally having a chat to your co-leader about how the week will run and who will have overall responsibility for what.

Last weeks Raid I got the record for flogging off the most Raid jerseys..13 out of 16 finishers bought one. Which has two consequences..that the others are trying now to beat that sell rate, and the other that I will now always be the one responsible for merchandising. I would like to say the 13 sells was due to skill and sweet talking but I think it was more due to bringing out the jerseys on the final day after the clients had had a few celebratory drinks ..timing is everything as they say.

Posted by louisebenn 13:19 Archived in France Comments (0)

Sat 28th June


Slept very badly last night, more nightmares about clients, so it was difficult to work up the umph to go put for a spin. I probably should have made myself go but I didn't really have the energy for that either. So I settled down on the couch resolved to fix the credit card problems that have been plaguing me since the start of the trip. I won't go into detail about it as it would probably end up as a huge rant that goes on for hours but I will say that it is a good example of 'efficient' banking at it's best...not.

Another good excuse to not go out on the bike was the L'Areigeoise sportive which would mean closed roads and hoards upon hoards of cyclists. When I went down to Les Cabannes after lunch to get some bread, the whole village had been taken over by it. The village square was one big feed station. It was nothing like a feed station for a UK sportive though..where tea and cake rule (wow I now realise how English that is!), here the bars and restaurants all open up and the cyclists were all sat having a full on lunch with beer and wine too! There were even some Lycra clad folk in the Spar buying wines and meats. It seems that here the sportive are much more of a relaxed whole day affair, and with the heat..it seems the sensible way to do it.

The downside to having a quiet day is that the ole brain decided to kick in and start thinking about things that I have avoided thinking about from the start. No good can ever come of thinking and I ended up with more questions, no answers, and a low feeling about it all. Distraction was needed so wine has been procured and the plan is to have a good old movie and wine night.

I think though that I am in need to get back on the road again, and so Monday cannot come fast enough. It seems strange to wish away my days off especially since I will not have any for a while, but I need to start moving. Tomorrow should be a better day..the forecast is rain but a couple of the boys will be back from their trips so it will be nice to see them. And of course they will bring the vans so I will be able to have a good ole flaff about with those ready for Monday. I do worry about my like of van flaffing (basically cleaning, rearranging, stock taking etc) but it is actually the best therapy and relaxation technique around and so its probably not worth thinking about too much..whatever works eh?

Side note..I have become addicted to watching the Lego Ninja cartoon that they show on week day mornings. I may not understand the French but a good cartoon transcends language and Lego ninjas is just awesome. Mental note to check out the Lego cartoons and movie when I get home.

Posted by louisebenn 01:57 Archived in France Comments (1)

Friday 27th June


distance: 92km
Total ascent: 2500m
Hours in the saddle: 5hrs

Today the sun came out and seems to be staying out without the threat of the heavens opening! Finally! Though it is so muggy and hot I wish it would rain. Weirdly there is random gusts of cold wind but that's not enough to offset the hot.

Woke up early and the plan was to head out for a long loop over Pailheres and back round via part of the nightmare shortcut route that I had had to drive last week (can't remember how much detail I wrote about that but think uber steep up with severe switchbacks, the down on a narrow road with no barrier and a sheer drop, then tunnels just bored out of the rock with v little space to spare). I have to say that going up Pailheres in the cooler morning was much more civilised. I say 'cooler'..it was still 'sweat through your lycra' worthy temperatures. The climb was also made easier by there being a group that set off a while before me, which provided a nice lot of people to chase and overtake. They had two support vans which did the usual leap frogging of their clients so I saw them a lot. By half way the guys in the vans were cheering me on too bless them.

And then came the down, cor that cold wind made its presence know! The road was covered in graffiti from the last time the tour came by, it was all going up that side though so new plan to head down to the town of Mijanes and then come back up Pailheres from that side. I also remembered that our guys on the Raid would be doing this climb too today so it would be nice to see them (and maybe steel some of their cake). So after some lovely hairpins down the mountain and a fanta and an apple turnover, back up it was.

God it was hot. Legs were feeling it. No one to chase either which made it harder. Where's those support vans when you need them?! My new friends in their vans and their clients passed the other way and waved..but aside from that there was no distraction from the slog. I think I have mentioned before your head can be your worst enemy on the bike, its best to keep head and legs separate...too late for me on this one tho. I was distracted near the end by someone waving at me from their car..and when I got to the top a lady was taking photos of me and cheering and clapping me on. Not sure whether that is a complement or whether I looked so damn awful that she thought I needed all the encouragement I could get! No Marmot van at the top, I was too early so no cake for me :( a little rest and jacket on, then straight on down. It was a fantastic descent, really fast and swoopy, a little gravelly but mostly good. Big wave to the Marmot vans as they passed, and then down to Ax and along back to Pech. It was not a long ride by any standard but it made up for it in ascent.

This afternoon was chilling time, I only have 5 channels here but two of them seem to love Friends, so default watching is Friends with no dubs or subtitles, or the music channel. I had a catch up with the boss and it seems that the next few weeks are going to be hectic and non stop basically until I hit the road touring again. My next supposed week off has been hijacked by the Big Ride session with Cyclist magazine back over in the Pico's, so I think I am down to 1 day off in the next month..ouch! But I am not complaining, its not everyday you help out on a magazine article. Fame!!! Hmm well maybe not, but it will be fun. I do seem to have said that I am not totally adverse to doing the Angliru again..what is wrong with me??!! But I am actually not so against it, time is a great healer, as is being able to use one of the lighter titanium hire bikes we have here plus also a few other conditions here and there ;). Now I have to go learn how to use SRAM gears.....

Posted by louisebenn 09:38 Archived in France Comments (0)

Thursday 26th June


So today I did what has to be the most nerve wracking thing I have done so far on my whole trip....got my haircut! Not sure why it was so nerve inducing perhaps due to my hairdressing French not really being up to standard..and there is something about putting yourself completely in someone else's hands especially when it comes to messing with your hair. It had taken me three days to work up the nerve to even go into the shop, instead stalking it on the way to the Spar each day. But today, armed with my google translate sourced select hairdressing phrases I made it in. I was a bag of nerves and was a sweat bucket by the time I left. Having said that they did it really well, it is quite short now..so I don't have to go through that traumatic experience again!..and it actually doesn't look too bad . Well far better than the long straw-like mess it had become over the last three months.

Ride wise I headed up the road behind Pech and Les Cabannes to the Plateau de Beille. It is down on the website climbbybike.com as the 11th toughest in the Pyrenees above even the beast that is the Pailheres and one side of the Tourmalet, which I am not sure I agree with. It's about 15km long and again the gradient seemed to swing between the 8's and 10's. Storms were forecast again today so after starting late the plan was just to get as high up as possible before the clouds opened. As I came out of Les Cabannes and looked up it didn't seem that would be too far away as there were already huge dark clouds looming over the peaks of where I was headed. There were quite a lot of cyclists on the road ignoring the weather and I had fun chasing down and overtaking the locals. I think they are all out to practise for a massive sportive that is happening here at the weekend. Thankfully there was no rain the whole way up..a couple of false alarms that turned out to be drips from my newly short hair. The clouds still loomed though and as seems to be the way whenever I cycle up mountains at the moment, the view was left to my imagination rather than reality. On the plus side clouds make it cooler..

There were a lot or horses and goats near the top, and as always good I made a lot of noise before I approached them. The goats however were a bit slow and though they heard and saw me coming, only decided to panic when I was close. Obviously the other side of the road was safest place to be so they stampeded across. I had visions of the shame of being taken out by a mountain goat...but fortunately they had just enough wits about them to go around me.

Both horses and goats had cow bells attached..which reminded me of a question I had asked myself numerous times on this trip....do cows/horse/goats know and hear that they have bells on? does it annoy the crap out of them or do they try and ring them in tune? I have a feeling that that will be one of life's unanswered questions...

Posted by louisebenn 07:23 Archived in France Comments (0)

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