A Travellerspoint blog


the vuelta resumes: prologue


Distance: 64km
Total ascent: 1577m
Hours in the saddle: 3hrs 45
Terrain: mountain!

Since finishing the Tour de France trip on Sunday it has all been about preparing to get back on the bike and head back into Spain to continue my little tour. When I say preparing, it was really a case of taking 5 min to wedge stuff in my panniers and then a whole lot of sleeping and eating. Actually the most important thing was to get a new pair of cycling shorts as my old ones were becoming thread bare on the derrier and I wanted to avoid mooning the locals more than I have done already.

There was time also to watch some DVDs..mainly Sherlock's first two series which I have watched sooooo many time but it doesn't go old. Prompting for the first time for this trip a download session - season 3, the Lego movie and Fargo series. It's strange that I haven't wanted to before or more rather interesting that I want to now...distraction technique for this transition period maybe?

It is strange..I am looking forward to going and I am not, ditto with leaving Pech. The first part of the touring actually seems so long ago and things have changed so much since. It's going to be tough trying to get back into the mindset and physical demands of the touring again (primarily the former). I have done very little cycling relatively in the last two months. While the bosses are all for going out and almost at times push for it, it is very difficult as a newbie to let yourself. One colleague said to me once..'if you have time free then you have probably forgotten something' and there is also the thought that if you are off enjoying yourself then your co-guide is covering for you. All in all it's tricky to get you head around escaping on the bike even though it's the only chance of a break we usually get. Either way the transition back to cycling with the extra weight of the panniers and on me (damn that cake and wine) will be hard.

Mentally it's tricky too. Leaving behind the security of HQ and the people is difficult. But then weigh that against back to seeing amazing new places and experiences. Then you add in the mindset change to deal with the slower pace, heat and miles. But for this side I am doing my usual..not thinking about it. Its worked so far, don't give yourself time to think or analyse anything just do it.

So bearing all this in mind and also from my lessons learnt on my first day from Malaga all those months ago, I decided to have a kinda prologue before the big off. While I didn't have to leave Pech yet, it seemed right to.. in terms of having everything ready, to check everything worked and to separate myself so I could start to change my mindset away from it. In terms of distance from Pech..well I have ended up just down the road. But I got here via my old friend the Col de Pailheres to test the legs on the climbs, and the balance on the descent with the panniers. It started good mentally zoning out straight away but it slipped back and on several occasions I was close to turning back. I persevered bolstered by some English riders passing by and shouting their support. Making it to the top I stopped to take in the amazing view over the mountains and down the hairpins which I will miss, then set off back the way I came to the hotel.

Somethings here I never get used to and one of those is cafes that don't serve food. I don't get it. Not sure I ever will. Annoyingly this cafe was the only place in my village that could possibly serve lunch (but doesn't). Had to wait til half three for the little shop to open and then a tin of tuna salad with a bagette doubling as food and a spoon. Back to touring food already and I haven't even started properly yet!

Tomorrow I head up to Andorra. Not quite sure of the logic of why I am going there rather than direct to Spain especially as it is a whacker of a 35km climb to the highest pass in the Pyrenees, but it seemed a good idea at the time! Then the day after....Spain!!

Posted by louisebenn 10:04 Archived in France Comments (0)

Tour de France trip

Of course nothing that day was according to plan..it is transfer day after all...initially I was meant to leave first thing with the others in the morning to pick up clients, but two cancelled and I didn't need to go until later on. So I settled in for lunch. Then I had a call saying, nope change of plan, you need to be in Toulouse in under two hours to meet some clients. Awesome..takes two hours to get there. So I jumped in the van and headed off full speed. No time for worry about the rib and driving (the van sets it off for some reason) until I went past the spot where I pulled over and a little chill went through me. But made it to the airport in time parked up and met the clients and drove them to the start in Luchon. Nice surprise being that two of them had been on the Pico's trip so it was good to see friendly faces.

Luchon was crazy..loads of people, cars and cyclists, and you could feel the atmosphere building up for the Tour finish the next day. Very different from the town that we passed by on the raid..but that is true of all places that the Tour went through..it brings life and a carnival feel wherever it goes. Flags and banners everywhere. If you didn't know it was a cycling event you would purely by the fact that the town had been shopped dry of bananas completely. Bad preparation by the town..they should have ordered in quadruple the normal amount!

That day of the trip was about settling in and getting bikes ready. The next day we threw them in at the deep end..no lovely civilised warm up..oh no...straight on and up the Port de Bales, a monster of a climb made worse by rain and near the top heavy mist. As a cyclist this was bad enough but in the van it was horrendous.. as well as the normal windy road and mist there was the hundreds of mobile homes and caravans to manouver around on a road that was just over one car wide. Chance would have it I was in big old Frodo too..the bigger and least powerful of the two vans. Couple of close calls and slides on the grass and eventually the top was reached. Then once all arrived and layered up in clothes a zoomy descent all the way back to town and a few braved the west side of the Portillion too.

Day 2 was again following the tour route but this time over the east of Portillion and then if they wanted up the Superbagneres then back to town to watch the pros go over Bales and then the Luchon stage finish. Going to the east side of Portillion meant going to Spain (yay). It confused me slightly as I forgot that fact so when I got stopped by the police I started spouting broken French at them. Soon clicked and managed to assure the very suspicious policeman that I was just a poor guide and that all I had in the back of my van was bananas and my battered bike in slightly better Spanish. Portillion is a nice climb from the east..beautiful views. However it was nothing compared to the sight that met up when you looked up on the descent. High above on the edge of the mountain face opposite us was the most imposing building (even imposing at that height). It soon became apparent that this was where we were headed..that was Superbagneres. After a long and tough climb (for the cyclists, not so bad for me) we reached the top and were rewarded by the most fantastic view over the snowy peaks. Absolutely breath taking. Def a climb for my bucket list.

Time to head back to Luchon, something I had been dreading as it would be chaos and there was no chance that I would be able to get near town let alone park there. Plan was to try and skirt the town then come round the other side via the main road and try to park as close as I could. Chance would have it that this was the perfect plan as that side they had opened up a field for free parking. Phew. Walked into town passing the team busses and got myself a bit lost in the maze of barriers and people but I ended up by then finish and the big screen. Quickly realised that the best place to be was actually after the finish not before as it would be a fast end so better to see them after when they slowed and got caught in the media rush. It did mean I missed the caravan but I did get to see all the riders close up, and was able to walk to the busses after and see them all close up there too. I was however far too English and proper to get any photos with then even though I was mere mm's away from the likes of Bernie, Trentin and Sagan (annoyingly charming in real life). I wondered back to the hotel meeting up with the group and then bringing the van back to town when the roads opened.

Unfortunately that meant having to get up real early in the morning to have all the hire bikes done for the days off. Which in itself was early as the group were going to ride the days tour route ahead of the pro's and get as far as they could before the Gendarmes closed the road. For the vans this in theory meant an easier day as we couldn't support the guys on the road. Reality however is always different as there were road closures and generally hoards of coaches, cyclists and cars all blocking up the road and stopping us from where we wanted to be. Arrgghhh stressful. Brief stress interlude when we were able to take a spin up the Aspen from Arreau, so good to stretch the legs and get some time outside the van. Hotel that night was in Aste..one of my favourites that we use in the raid and where they have nicknamed me 'banana Louise'. Great place.

Day 4 was a big old day..up to the Hautacam! The mountain finish for the last day of the mountain stages. The riders went pretty much straight up while we sorted the bags at the hotel then followed them up. It was amazing..thousands of people, cyclists and cars and busses all headed up the mountain. There were stalls and music and drink..it was brilliant. It was a tough old climb but there was certainly enough to distract you. I was just getting my rhythm and getting into the climbing zone when a car misjudged the distance between us,and clipped me with the mirror..wibble wobble splat..there I was lying on the concrete looking up at the boot of the car as he drove off. A gendarme and some onlookers helped me up asking if I was ok..being a proper cyclist I ignored them until I checked out my bike. All fine there then did a body check..blood on my leg and my hand and some tingles in my left arm. As soon as the chain was back on my bike I thanked the people and headed off. Only to stop a few k's later to recoup. Annoyed more with the fact I had lost my rhythm and was now struggling with the climb. But being stubborn I kept going, keeping strong past the temptations of the beer and wine tents on numerous corners we went past. I think I must have looked like hell as at one point I was suddenly joined on the road by 5 drunk guys drafting behind me! I was annoyed at first and then realised how funny it must look and started to get into it, flicking an elbow which they eventually caught and came in front so we had a wee chain gaing going, me and my five drunk boys. They stayed with me for about a km when they realised beer was low and the tent was far back. Bless them it was so funny and cheered me up no end. Half a km away and I was at our 'hospitality suite' just after the 2km flag. Time for beer, wine and BBQ (and for me a frozen salmon on my arm to try and reduce the swelling) while we waited for the caravan and the tour itself.

I have to say the caravan was my favourite part..it became a mission to get as many goodies as possible fighting off all the other local spectators in the process. I got all our riders involved and we soon had quite a haul of stuff that well I imagine will go straight in the bin!! Soon the pro's came past..first Nibali and then the others behind him. We tried to amuse them by waving the marmots in their faces...it didn't really work! Half an hour later and they had all gone up past..and we were seeing them come back down again at the same time. When they had all finished they opened the road to cyclist so many rode down alongside the pro's. We had to pack up so it was a good few hours before I hit the road and the jams of traffic (cars and bikes) trying to get off the mountain.

Day 5 was the mighty Tourmalet and the Luz Ardeden..not much sticks in my head about that day. Though as I left the Luz there was a massive hail storm.

day 6 the last cycling day..very civilised day up the Soulour and Aubisque. Very relaxed day..I even got to cycle my favourite road between the two cols and back. Cake at the top for one riders birthday too..all good. Then back down to reality and the afternoon of getting the hire bikes ready for the next trip in the heat. A nice last dinner with the guys and then I bowed out early as I had the early transfer.

Day 7 transfer to Toulouse at 8 then last minute told to pick up new passengers to bring back to Ax. All worked out relatively smoothly, and strangely I knew one of the new guys from a ride I did last year in the Alps. Small world.

And then Pech...home again but this time for the last time to sort and pack my panniers again and get ready for the off later in the week back to Spain....

Posted by louisebenn 08:45 Archived in France Comments (0)

the last few weeks part 2

R&r week

So after all the excitement reaching HQ in Pech was like finding an oasis. Though the journey still hadn't finished as I still had to drive the remaining 15k to Ax where I was booked into a chalet. A cuppa and a chat later and I crawled the last k's to my home for the week. I was feeling today's driving and it was a struggle to get there. Though at least still having the van meant I could stop of at the supermarket and stock up before collapsing at the other end..

I was a bit unsure what the place would be like but at that point I would take anything and a big plus point is that it was only a couple of mins walk into town and the shops. It was actually a really nice place..the studio rooms were clean and modern and actually pretty large considering. They also had a balcony overlooking the mountains, a swimming pool and a laundry. So actually it was a pretty good find and a great place to relax and recover.

I managed to do nothing but watch the tour de France that first day..after that it quickly became apparent that I am crap at doing nothing. Everyday I was out on the bike up the mountains, and even at HQ helping with any bits that needed doing. The first few days I think this was more out of the need for distraction and to avoiding thinking about what had happened.

On the third day I went to see a massage therapist to relax my back and shoulders..they felt like they had knots on knots on knots and that couldn't be helping. It turns out it was much needed, after she worked on my back my shoulders dropped about 3inches back down to where they should be. And when she worked on the front of my neck she discovered that my first rib on my right side was out of place. It's relatively common thing and it was possible that this was the cause of my weird head as a sometimes effect of this displacement is that the bone squashes the nerves going into your head. It fitted in also with what I had felt that my touching my neck had set it off. It was a really good session and at the end I felt as light as a feather and slightly detached from it all...like after a good yoga session or something. It also gave me some relief by giving a possible cause for the episode..having it unknown meant the worry of it occurring again. Now with a possible trigger I was aware of what caused it and could work on stretches etc that could limit it happening again.

So obviously back on the bike time ;) I know it is not resting but it truely is the best way to relax for me. So a week was spent up the mountains. The first ride I did ..I did try and be good and have a relatively easy route..along the valley and then up what I thought was a small civilised col..the col de Port. It actually turned out to be not so civilised after all but I persevered thinking it was just that side or the col, the other side, which is in the raid, I remembered to be better. Again it wasn't! It made me realise that memory is a selective thing. For each raid I have led I have raved about day 4 (col de Port, Pailheres, Moulis, Garavel and the Jau) saying it is the best day, Port is a great way to start the day, very civilised, and then Pailheres is awesome and one of my faves...but I realised that morning that actually I hated col de Port when I cycled it in the raid..I had a really bad cold that day and struggled to breathe properly so it was tough, and that on the top of Pailheres I was swearing away at G when he tried to take a photo of me. But I had blanked all that from my memory and replaced it with it being a great day. It was quite a revelation as I had had no idea that I had done that!

Port is actually a nice climb though and Pailheres is actually one of my favourites now. Both I tackled on my recovery week, as well as the Plateau de Beille. So the week was spent cycling, eating , sleeping and watching the tour (homework for the next trip). I got called up too for work on the last day..a morning of van flaffing on Sauron then Frodo. It turned into a whole day of flaffing and I loved it. It is so worrying how much I enjoying sorting out the vans. And worrying too that the boss now knows it! But its stuff that needs to be done and if there is time then labels and cleaning the various boxes is a big thing to do. Very relaxing too.

I had a couple of other little incidents in the week..I lost a filling, and also got stung by a wasp twice when it went into my cycling jersey while I was speeding along..cue swollen shoulder and back where it got me. Little bastard.

The next morning I was called in again before the tour de France trip started later on. More flaffing and reorganising and organising and then back in the van and on the road to the airport once more....

Posted by louisebenn 12:28 Archived in France Comments (0)

the last few weeks pt 1

An unexpected trip

It's been a while since I last posted for a mixture of reasons of being busy working, no WiFi and also not knowing how to write objectively about some events (specifically the one below). But the time has come to write again so I will do my best to cover what's been happening the last three weeks in the next couple of days so its all up-to-date by the time I head back to Spain and restart my tour.

So where did I leave off...Ok so I finished my first of two back to back raids.

3rd Raid:
The second week went quite smoothly..the group were a lovely bunch and a pretty fast one too so the days were relatively short and mostly uneventful (this is a good thing). We had a couple of guys that had underestimated the raid and struggled but they made it with huge smiles on their faces. Other than that I quite weirdly have nothing much that sticks out for that trip... that is until the end. We had a very early morning transfer for a couple of the guys and then a lot of flaffing to be done to be able to get the others to their airports. Eventually it was all done and we set off in convoy to Perpignon to drop most then I and 4 remaining clients went on to Toulouse. All was going well until after we had a coffee break, after which I started to feel a little odd. I put it down to tiredness and planned a break after I got to the airport and maybe a quick forty winks in the van. Weird feeling kept coming though and by the time we reached the Toulouse ring road, I was starting to worry a bit and began counting down the km feverently hoping they would go quickly and I would make it there.

I didn't.

About 4km to go I was doing all the tricks to feel better, and then reached behind my neck to rub the muscles. Big mistake. I am not really sure what happened then but it wasn't good. The movement triggered something in my head and the world went funny. Conscious of my passengers and that I was on a buzy city road, I was together enough to apologise to my guys and pull onto the hard shoulder. I was shaking like a leaf and pretty freaked out. The guys initially thought it was a driving bonk and fed me jellybeans but the shakes didn't subside nor did the weird head feeling. One client offered to drive the remaining few k's when it became apparent that I was not in a good way. I was reluctant to let him but after a while there was no real other choice as I was not physically able to drive. We changed seats and I spent the ride trying to keep my head from falling off and giving directions when I could.

When we got there I tried to convince myself all was fine but when I walked into the airport I nearly fell over as my legs and balance had gone. One of the clients J went to get the airport medic while another, W-P, helped me back to sit in the van. A few mins later, much to my embarrassment, two medics arrived with their bags and a wheelchair. I tried to explain what happened.. difficult to do on french when you are not even sure what happened yourself even in English. I could see the scepticism in their eyes and that they thought it was just dizzyness or something fairly inocculous. Until they took my blood pressure that is. It was 170/120 and a temp of 38 which is no way normal or healthy by anyones standards and it had them worried. Decision was made to take me to their base to keep an eye on me and call for an ambulance. Unfortunately they wanted to take me by wheelchair through the busy airport. I resisted saying walking was fine but was over ruled and so had to suffer further embarrassment. Sigh! But this reminded me that distraction is good..be it embarrassment or things around so this very much determined all my actions from this point..checking what the medics were doing, what the machines were saying, what all the instruments around my bed did...it also reminded me that I had 4 clients still to sort out for their way home. Luckily none had urgent time restraints but still. J stayed with me the whole time for which I will be forever in her debt for, she also contacted the boss to let him know what was going on at various points. W-P took control of the van situation and sorted out the remaining clients. Not sure what I would have done without those two.

Before the ambulance came J was on the phone to the boss saying where I was being taken and he asked if he could talk to me..J relaid this and I let out a wailed 'nooooooooo' probably a bit loud and a bit OTT like as the room burst out laughing at my response and I imagine it was heard very clearly down the phone. Doh! Ah well. In my defence I was just holding things together and the thought of having to retell the story just didn't seem a doable thing.

So a few hours after getting to the airport I was put onto a trolley and wheeled around the airport (oh yay :\) to the ambulance. J and W-P were staying at the airport for their flight so distractions needed..and realising that this was a whole new experience for me (ambulance hospital etc) I did what any person of today's time would do and got my phone/camera out to document it all. I didn't sink down to selfie level put that was mainly due to the fact I probably looked awful and that my front camera was filthy. If I could have filmed them putting the siren on to get through the traffic I would have! It was awesome.

By the time we got into a&e and they retested me, my bp and temp had gone down away from scary levels so I was made to wait in the normal q for treatment. The French system is quite a strange one...there is very little peivacy at all. In an English reception they just take a few details and then you see a nurse in a separate room..but not here. You do give them your details but they then call you back to the desk to do an initial treatment. No privacy or anything, so I saw more bloody things, bumps and other random injuries in those few hours waiting then I have ever done.

It was about 6pm when I got called in. By this time I pretty much had no symptoms apart from lightheadedness but that was more from not eating since 8am that morning. They poked and prodded me but couldn't find anything to explain it. Their prognosis was 'dizzyness'! I laughed myself off the med bed. Dizzyness I know, and no way in hell was what happened dizzyness but without any other identifiers this was what they were going with. Slightly dejectedly I was led to another waiting room to wait for my discharge papers (they did take pity on me and fed me some cake and jam which went down a treat). Twenty mins later the doctor came back and said he wanted to do another test and led me back to a room to do an ECG. I was weirdly excited about this, having never had one done before. It was all pretty cool and between having that done and the cake I perked up a bit. Down side was I was fishing out ECG stickers off my body for the next ten mins! How many do they need?!

I'd been chatting to the boss at varying times in my wait at the hospital and once they knew I was being discharged they arranged some accomo for me back near the airport, so I could taxi there, pick up the van and then go crash out for the night. I was in two minds about staying in Toulouse..I was still a little uneasy so not keen on being by myself but then again there was no way in hell that I was driving the hour and a half back home to Ax. So I took the lesser of the two evils, staying the night and making my way back in the morning when hopefully all would be well.

The night was uneventful however in hindsight I should have probably stayed longer in Toulouse but I just wanted to be somewhere I knew with people I knew. So first thing I set off home to Ax. I made it twenty mins in before I had to turn off to a service station where I spent an hour trying to regain normalacy by walking around and lying down in the van with the marmot as a pillow. Eventually it subsided and I carried on the journey. Weirdly I found that if I hunched over the steering wheel I could offset the weirdness and feel more human. So in that strange position I crawled my way home at a measly 90kph. Never ever ever have I been so pleased to reach anywhere in my life.../

Posted by louisebenn 05:17 Archived in France Comments (0)

Sunday 6th July


Little bit of a lay-in today as breakie was from 8.

At 9 G went off with his transfer guys to Perpignan, a few independants slowly drifted off. Then at 10 I had all my stuff done. Hire bikes on Frodo, my three transfer people all packed up and wedged in. So off it was to Toulouse. Three hours later we get to the airport and drop the first guy. Then a very 'scenic' route to the remaining two's hotel in the centre of town. Then lucky me back out to the airport to where I will be staying tonight.

First job there was to take the four bikes off the back of the van and put them inside it instead for security overnight. Then finally at 3 I got to have some lunch..maccyd's as it was the only place close. After food, I could happily have curled up and slept for the afternoon..but I can't check in til 5 so I will have to wait. Thought of going for a spin but a storm came, so sadly I made do with van flaffing and cleaning two of the bikes. The other job needed doing today is cleaning me..I stink, my clothes stink, everything stinks. So laundry, shower and catch up on the Tour we France is in order once I can get into my room.

Now is rest time to catch up on sleep and recoop before it all starts all over again tomorrow for another Raid Pyrenean. What fun!
Its weird, this week was less eventful than the last raid but more tiring. (You can kinda tell the tiredness kicking in as the length of the blog posts gets shorter and shorter!).

Posted by louisebenn 11:41 Archived in France Comments (0)

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