| Inspirational Races in Beautiful Places
Sun Jun 21, 2015 8:15 am la marquise
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Marquise in search of a good holiday must be in want of a race to spark Spike’s interest.
Strangely, my bucket list of places I’d like to visit has been shrinking, not due to visiting them all, but more a reluctance to travel vast distances and contribute to global warming. Having seen photos, one place has remained on my list for many years. It is near, but for some years was not an ideal holiday destination. Fortunately the political situation is far healthier nowadays, so I set my sights on Giant’s Causeway.
There are an ideal set of races along the County Antrim Coastal Path in September – 10km, half and full marathons. However, that clashes with the start of the cyclocross season and duathlons, so that wasn’t going to happen. Then I found that 26 extreme, a Northern Irish sports event management firm, advertised the Causeway Crossing – a set of trail runs: 25km, 50km and 100km – which for the last few years have taken place on the May Day bank holiday weekend. As this coincides with my birthday, I get first dibs on activities.
With the prospect of a challenging race and a happy partner, Spike readily agreed to the expedition. And, O Big Mistake, I thought “Oh, what the hell, I may as well have a go at the 25km”. My aim was to finish with a smile, rather than bust a gut to save a minute or two. In November I found some wonderful accommodation, the Magherintemple Lodge, an Irish Landmark Trust property near Ballycastle. Old college friends living in County Down confirmed that our visiting them in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains would be welcome and EasyJet flights and car hire were booked.
Ignore sharp climb at the start - that was Spike's garmin waking up.
With six months to train for the event, and already able to run 5 miles comfortably, I felt confident that I could build up both distance and speed. However, speed is a relative notion. Spike’s slow is my sprint. So I contacted the race organisers to check on cut-off times. They replied by email that all the information was on the website. Well, I had triple checked the race website before the initial contact, so I asked them to just tell me whether there were time limits. No response. I asked the same question on their Facebook page, which was also ignored. This didn’t give me much confidence in the organisation, but I had booked everything and my training continued according to plan, starting with the Hadleigh 5, and a couple of cross country series races, both about 6 miles.
In January I completed the Freethorpe 10 in 1:51:49, with a big smile. Things were looking positive.
Then the race entries opened – for the end of May bank holiday. Oh Crap! The Irish Landmark Trust was most obliging in changing the dates of our booking with no admin fee. Our friends confirmed that the later weekend was also fine with them. An added bonus was that our good friend, Anne, who has accompanied us on several race weekends, was available for the new date, and she has had Giants Causeway on her list for ages. Changing the car hire was no problem, just more expensive. Of course, the EasyJet flights had to be junked and new ones booked. My fault for booking well in advance.
In February I completed the Tarpley 10 in 1:50:36, still smiling. It was a good reinforcement that my training was solid.
In March I extended the distance and trotted happily through the Stowmarket Half Marathon in 2:31:37. Not exactly setting the running world records on fire, in fact, over 15 minutes slower than my own PB, but I was training for the long haul. I had been doing my usual mouthing off but my original idea of completing the Causeway Crossing 25km in three hours had already shifted to three and a half hours. I was ready to consolidate my progress at the Bungay Half Marathon, but came down with a chest lurgy, which developed into bronchitis and a particularly rasping cough. Training ceased for a good three weeks and my mojo took a good beating. On the May Day weekend I got shifting again and enjoyed a 23km trail run of three laps of Fynn Valley. My confidence was boosted and I knew I could do the distance, but speed was definitely an issue. My target was now shifting inexorably towards a 3:45 target, but I knew I would not be happy with 5 hours. O Ye Gods! Me and my big mouth.
After a crack of dawn start, on Friday morning we met up with Anne at Belfast International Airport (the EasyJet place 15 miles out of town), took the coast road to Ballycastle, stocked up with provisions and settled into our cottage, which proved to be much nicer and larger than the website indicated.
All proceeded to plan as we visited Giants Causeway – the full visitor centre experience with atrocious audio guide.
It’s strange that we all imagined that the basalt columns would each be at least a metre wide. In fact, they are more like 30cms across.
Anyway, of course it is absolutely stunning.
Through the Giants Gateway we strolled along the path past the Pipe Organ and on towards the Amphitheatre, which recently had a massive landslide making it inaccessible.
Turning back towards the causeway, we climbed the Shepherd’s Steps up to the coastal path. We saw some little yellow pointing markers. Hmmm…
Before returning to the cottage, we registered for the race at Ballintoy, where we met Rowan, the Race Director. The race had changed hands to Primal Challenges – shenanigans in the event management world, methinks. Rowan explained that, as the 100km race was due to start at 5am, 50km at noon, and the 25km at 2pm, there was no way I would be last on the course. He also mentioned that the course was actually 24km. We collected our race packs and headed home for the traditional pre-race spaghetti bolognese. Spike encouraged me to think that the distance would be the full 25km, then, if the finish line came early I could be happy, and not miserable if the measuring was a little off. Sound advice.
We had a leisurely breakfast on Saturday, got our race gear together and put a chicken casserole in the oven to slow cook through the afternoon.
The bus was scheduled to leave Larrybane Quarry, by the entrance to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, at 1:15pm to take us to the race start, just beyond the ruin of Dunluce Castle. We arrived in plenty of time and soon realised that Spike’s race gear was still in the cottage. Mild mannered Spike issued a rare expletive. There was a food stop at 15km, but that wasn’t quite enough to keep him racing at full pelt. A plan was formed. Anne drove to the cottage to collect the kit while Spike and I boarded the bus. Meantime we eventually got details as to how Anne would find the Magheracross car park. Text messages were sent whenever the bus reached a point with a couple of signal bars.
All the athletes disembarked from the bus and the ritual stretching routines began. The fit people were checking out the opposition. I was looking for our little red hire car to appear. At 2pm Rowan called us all to start the race. Just as we lined up, Anne turned in to the car park. Hurrah! The race was delayed for a couple of minutes while Spike donned his drink pack and Garmin. Then we were off.
The first 100k guy had already started back by the time we started. A couple more of the 100km and several 50km athletes were approaching our start point (their 75km and 25km marks respectively). The 50km route started at Larrybane Quarry. The 25km start was the 50km turnaround point. So long as I kept the sea on my left I should keep on course.
As our paths crossed there was much encouragement and high fives. There was a tremendously friendly and positive atmosphere as we ran down to and through Portbalintrae, crossing the golf course, and picking up the coastal path. Plenty of weekend walkers prevented me from getting lonely. Yes, as usual, I was at the back of the race within five minutes.
I thought that perhaps one of the other athletes had set off too fast and I would reel them in. I was wrong. It was a sunny day in one of the most beautiful places I have been privileged to visit. I was smiling.
I reached the Giants Causeway Visitor Centre after 10km. It was a great feeling running down the sloping road as the tourists made way for me. I’m quite good at descending and almost look like a runner.
Having seen the causeway properly the day before, I felt quite blasé ripping along to the Shepherd Steps. I was glad that we had climbed them previously as I knew I could manage it (with a rest half way up). On the top path I turned left and trotted on towards Dunseverick. After I passed above the Amphitheatre I had already admired, I took a moment to stop and admire the view. It was breathtakingly stunning. I got quite emotional, despite a lack of dust in the sea air. This was the reason for the trip.
Yomping on my Garmin informed me that I had covered 15km. There was no sign of the food station. I was not in need of food – I had energy drink and food, but I was expecting to see them. I wanted reassurance. After 16km I asked a passing 50km-er whether I had missed the aid point. “It’s about a mile further on” he called, and also checked whether I was in need of anything. The table of race food was waiting for me at 17.75km. I was fine about the food, but was worried that, as I had been told it was 15km to this point, and a further 10km to the finish line, did this mean the course was actually 27km? That would be a substantially longer in my book. The people manning the aid station didn’t know the distances – but they were good at providing water and bananas. I downed a gel with caffeine. I knew I had a long trek ahead.
Keeping the sea on my left I followed the well signed route. A kilometre further along I asked a passing 50km-er whether she knew the distance from her start to the aid station. She replied 8km with considerable confidence, so it looked like the distance would probably be 25km. But my nerves had been shaken and I proceeded cautiously. At this point the terrain took a much tougher turn. Up to this stage there was a solid well-worn path with an occasional stile to straddle. Now there was soft sand to suck up all my energy and stony beaches. I crossed a small bay and was faced with large boulders. After a few minutes of stumbling along I worried about slipping and injuring myself. Some friendly 50km-ers invited me to follow their stepping route, but I could only keep up with them for three rocks. I had to choose a route. At one stage I found myself on a small cliff, had to backtrack and pick a different course. The smile had slipped and the lip was starting to wobble. I was exhausted, and this was much harder than I had anticipated. A passing walker asked if I was OK.
“Not really” I replied “I’ve taken on more than I can chew, and could do with some help across these rocks, please”.
Patiently, he and his wife kindly guided me over the rocks to the firm sand at the end. I thanked them and marched on. By this stage a sub four hour finish was not on the cards. I was keen to conserve my energy in case there were more large rock bays to clamber over. Off the beach the track varied between grass, sand and bog and was littered with stiles. A quite unreasonable number of the bloody things. I was vaguely aware that the sun had changed to a steady rain.
Eventually at about 23km the yellow arrows pointed me onto tarmac at Ballintoy Harbour. I heard a familiar voice call from the road above to advise a 50km-er of the correct path. I waved up the cliff with a big smile.
See that little dot in the distance staggering up the road...
I tried running up the hairpin bends, but soon reverted to marching. Spike walked the final section with me. He had a spare t-shirt which I popped on as I was getting quite chilled in my soggy running vest.
As the clock turned 4:48 I crossed the finish line with a grin.
My Garmin recorded 25km. Very happy I had completed the course, but pretty much off my head, I sat in a gazebo on a stone and started shutting down. Spike helped me in to his jacket and Anne drove to meet me. They poured me into the car with the heating on full, wrapped me in a blanket and whisked me back to the cottage where I soaked in a hot bath. The chicken casserole was superb, but I was so tired I could only manage one helping!
The next morning we took Anne back to the airport after a visit to Carrickfergus Castle.
I was amazed to find that I could both climb and descend stairs, despite Saturday’s adventure.
We drove on to Turnip House Tea Rooms, located in the middle of nowhere in County Down, somewhere between Dromara and Castlewellan.
John and Elaine welcomed us with open arms.
Food was eaten, drink was drunk, memories were shared and future dreams imagined, pretty much solidly for two days.
We parted on Tuesday morning.
If you have spare time in Belfast, I can recommend the tours of Stormont and Crumlin Road Jail, both interesting in their different ways.
~ Last edited by la marquise on Sun Jul 19, 2015 4:47 pm; edited 1 time in total
Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:51 pm la marquise
Norseman Xtreme Triathlon 2014
As the New Year rolled in and the chimes of Big Ben were still echoing from Radio 4, I received a message from Dag, Norseman General Manager, inviting us to be part of the Norseman Crew. We were in Yippee! That really got our year off to a cracking start. As we both have a lot of experience of Norseman (competing and supporting) and have helped organise many sporting activities, we were both deemed suitable crew members.
Those who know Spike and me, know that Spike does the racing and I do all the organising. And, boy, do I organise Immediately I could add items to my Things To Do list:
From previous experience with SAS, I decided to fly with BA, as they accept bike bags as hold baggage without question, so that was a relatively easy decision. We flew to and from Oslo, as the journey from Gaustablikk to Oslo is significantly shorter than to Bergen.
I checked out all the usual car hire firms for an eleven day rental. Some of the quotes were astronomical. After lots of comparisons, noting additional fees for extra drivers, unlimited mileage etc etc I found Rent-A-Wreck, who were significantly cheaper than all the others, with no hidden extras.
Based on flight times, I reckoned that we could manage a couple of hours driving along the route after arriving on the Thursday afternoon. We arrived at Oslo airport expecting to find our car hire firm in the same area as all the others. Wrong. After chasing through a chain of mobile numbers I eventually spoke to Kristian, who described where the car was located in the Short Term Car Park and where the key was hidden. Eventually we were installed in a rather comfy Mazda 6. It’s a quite big car with surprisingly good suspension. We were Eidfjord-bound.
I certainly recommend booking a cabin at Stavn campsite to anyone needing accommodation along this route. Showers and loos were spotless, with all the little things included such as loo roll, soap and paper towels, so you didn’t have to bring a wash kit with you every time you needed a pee.
Having brought all the ingredients with us, we cooked up a storming vegetable risotto, and slept well. You know how I mentioned that I’m the organiser? Well, when I went to pay cash for the accommodation, the lady looked at me a little strangely.
“That isn’t Norwegian money” she said,
as I confidently extracted some notes from my bag of kroner.
Which muppet had picked up the remains of our Ö Till Ö money from our trip to Sweden?
On Friday morning we bought lunch stuff at Geilo and enjoyed a picnic on the Hardangervidda plateau in the sunshine. On arriving at Eidfjord, the race start town, we located Bergslein. This is the guesthouse that is, effectively, Norseman HQ. The owner, Liv, is charming and helpful, and is unnervingly similar in appearance to one of our cyclo-cross friends, so I had to always resist the urge to call her Sara.
As part of the crew, you can participate in the Crew Race, one week before the proper race. The Crew Race follows exactly the same course as the real race, but you jump into the fjord from some rocks, rather than a ferry. If you’re within the cut-off times, you get to finish at the top of Gausta and claim your black t-shirt.
A little diversion about t-shirts: If you win (male or female) the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, you win a black t-shirt, as do all the other athletes who meet the necessary cut-offs and climb to the summit of Gaustatoppen at 1800m. Those who do not reach the 32km point of the marathon inside the time and quota limits, complete the distance at 1100m with the finish line in the ski village of Gaustablikk. These people win a white t-shirt. White t-shirts can show off a tan better than black ones. Norseman is all about t-shirts: if you get five black T’s, you are awarded a green T. One man, Jan Wilhelm Werner, has a pink t-shirt for 10 blacks. So by 2012 Spike already had a green t-shirt (and six blacks), but thinks that pink would suit him well.
Through the afternoon more crew members rolled up and introductions were made. We were by no means the only new crew members. Spike and I got stuck into the pre-race favourite meal - spag bol. I was particularly proud of the parmesan shavings. After a long delay caused by cows in the road , Kalle Jensen, the Race Director, arrived at 8pm and gave a brief pre-crew-race-briefing. In return for use of a track pump, we agreed to give Ole from Trondheim a lift to the start, allowing his wife to have an extra couple of hours’ kip.
Spike and I packed up most of our gear, leaving a couple of bags to be kept at Bergslein, ready for our return.
The advantage of participating in the Crew Race is that you can lie in till 3:30am. Luxury. I drove Spike and Ole along the side of the fjord till we saw Kalle’s van in a layby.
A van and some cars
It is fair to say that the level of razzamatazz was economical. Nine crew members followed Kalle as he led them down the steep bank, then jumped into Hardangerfjord.
l-r: Irene, Jan-Sigurd, Ole, Kai, Spike, Geir, Ole Jacob, Tommy - so I guess this pic was taken by Jonny
The Crew Race was on.
I drove back to Eidfjord and set up T1 for Spike outside Quality Hotel. I nipped back to Bergslein to pack the car and readied myself for Norseman Support mode. Spike swam in with Jonny Hisdal, one of the race doctors, in third/fourth position.
Probably a swimming troll:
Oh. It's Spike clambering up to T1
Jonny in T1
“The favourite swim of my life” declared a beaming Spike.
I really didn’t understand this notion that jumping into a fjord at 5am could be in any way enjoyable.
Once he was on his bike, my next job was to get to the lay-by just before the Måbø tunnel. In past years, the athletes could cycle along the old tourist road which winds around the side of the mountains, while the support crews drive through the tunnels. However, a recent rock slide had taken out a large chunk of the road by this tunnel and the police have banned all use of this part of the cycle route as they are expecting more rock falls. It would put a downer on your day if a large rock were to fall on your head. Also, bikes are now banned from using the Måbø tunnel, much to the annoyance of several Eidfjord residents, but the police had given us a special dispensation for the Crew Race and the actual race. For the Crew Race each cyclist had to be followed by a support car. This tunnel is approximately two kilometres long on a steady uphill gradient. For me, this was the low point of the day.
Just as Petter followed Ole Jacob into the tunnel, a car screamed in behind and I heard the squealing of brakes. I held my breath till another car emerged from the tunnel, implying that there had been no crash.
Spike on the old Tourist Road:
When Spike came across the picturesque bridge and entered the tunnel I tagged in behind him. I could hear a car coming from behind, so put on the hazard lights for a few seconds. This successfully alerted the approaching car, who slowed down. But he couldn’t wait, and overtook in the tunnel. We had been advised not to let anyone pass, but I really don’t know how I could have stopped him. Spike powered on, out of the saddle, to get through this ordeal as quickly as possible. Towards the end of the tunnel another pair of cars followed me. Fortunately they waited till we were in daylight before overtaking. Phew. That was over.
When supporting Spike at Norseman in previous years, once he was cycling I would drive the forty kilometres straight to the top of the first mountain to the glory that is Breakfast at Dyranut. However, with only eight athletes on the road, I decided to offer more support as there were fewer people around to help in the event of a problem. In any case, had I arrived earlier I would have been disappointed, as the café didn’t open till 8am. The owner, an enthusiastic Norseman supporter, hadn’t realised that it was Crew Race day. Anyway, we were soon feasting on pancakes and smoked salmon In the beverage department I stuck to two mugs of tea, of which half a mug was stolen by a guy in red and black on a bike. Grrr. If I catch him he’ll know about it
Ole’s wife, Sissel, asked whether Spike was doing OK. With confidence I replied
“It’s a sunny day in Norway and he’s riding up mountains. I can guarantee he’s happy.”
And he was.
Once Spike was sorted, I headed for Geilo, the halfway point in the bike leg. I could feel the need for more caffeine and was directed to a coffee shop up two flights of stairs behind the supermarket. I got my special Norseman mug, © Cleo of this parish, filled with good smelling coffee, and just took small sips of it at each stop. Spike also took a generous portion, thus saving me from a crazy caffeine caper.
Kai at Geilo:
Jonny at Geilo:
At this stage Spike was in third place, behind Jonny and Kai, another race doctor. I was aware that Ole Jacob, Jan-Sigurd and Tommy (next year’s Race Director) were only a little way behind as their support cars were parking up by me.
Kai has breakfast at Geilo:
Spike is happy:
At the top of Dagali, the morning sun warmed me through sufficiently for me to change into shorts.
Immingfjell was bathed in glorious sunshine.
Spike is still happy:
Jonny gets running support on the false flat after Immingfjell:
Kalle took a dip in the lake by the dam. I had never seen such beautiful conditions for Norseman. I headed for T2 as the last twenty kilometres of the bike route are fast and pretty much downhill. At Austbygde (T2) I found Kari and Kim, two Norseman Crew stalwarts, taking a dip in the inviting lake. Wow. This was a sunny day. It was really getting rather hot…
Jonny was ahead. Kai was taking a short rest. Jan-Sigurd set off from T2 a couple of minutes after Spike. Did I mention that, on the one day in history when Norway was officially hot, we had a car with bust air conditioning? One of the prices paid for choosing Rent-A-Wreck.
After about six kilometres I pulled in at a Spar and bought a couple of ice lollies. The first athlete to whom I offered the sweet, cold sustenance was Kai, who refused the ice as his stomach wouldn’t handle it. He had gone through a pretty low patch early in the run, but was now starting to pick up again, chasing down Jonny.
Kai gets a wiggle on:
Jan-Sigurd realised that the lolly was a gift from the gods and accepted it enthusiastically. Spike wasn’t sure, but took it anyway. Three minutes later he declared it a brilliant idea. Water, sugar and cold aren’t bad race nutrition on a steaming hot day.
By the nine kilometre mark the ratio of walking to running started to increase. After thirteen kilometres even the slightest incline was sufficient reason to walk.
Phew what a scorcher.
The increase in walking did have a positive side effect. When not running, Spike could eat. He took on significantly more nutrition at this stage than in previous races, which I’m sure helped him as the day progressed. I had a Tupperware container with enticing piles of orange segments, and bite size pieces of banana.
Spike does a poor impression of a runner:
Spike kept expecting to be overtaken by Jan-Sigurd – but each time he turned back for a peek, Jan-Sigurd was the same distance behind, also struggling with the heat.
Jan Sigurd trying to remember cooler happier times:
After fifteen kilometres, by the Kongsberg turn, I was concerned that my fifteen litre water container was getting warm and was being used faster than anticipated.
Jan Sigurd and Spike appear to be racing in different directions:
Kari and Kim, who kept apparating (Harry Potter style) to cheer everyone on, advised me that there was a campsite just before the turn at Rjukan. I drove ahead and found the place. There were signs everywhere indicating that the water was for the use of campsite patrons only. I could have just helped myself, but decided to be polite. In reception I explained the situation and offered to pay for filling up my water container. They suggested I bought some little bottles of water at a ‘special’ Norwegian price. I described that the athletes had water bottles for running, and I needed ‘about five’ litres of tap water. I then saw they sold ice lollies. I offered to buy one. After a brief discussion the lady said that if I bought a lolly, I was welcome to fill my water container. The deal was done. I tipped out some lukewarm Eidfjord water and refilled with fresh, cold Rjukan water. Spike was more than happy to have another lolly.
I thought that a greater variety of nutrition was required, so emptied the contents of the bike bento box into the fruit container. Spike could now feast on salted cashews and jelly babies. As the cashews ran out I added salted peanuts.
Onward and upward - Spike knows what's ahead:
At the bottom of Zombie Hill, Jan-Sigurd had nearly caught Spike, so they walked up together. I hoped that Cobbie wouldn’t be hurt by this obvious two-timing, in the exact same spot where Spike and he had bonded a few years earlier.
Grethe, Jan-Sigurd’s partner, spotted a small waterfall at the side of the road. They had only met the night before, but Spike and Jan-Sigurd were already sharing waterfall showers in an effort to cool their bodies down.
The temperature was now 35°C
Kristina, Ole Jacob’s wife, soon joined us. When Ole Jacob caught up the three athletes worked together and encouraged each other up the mountain.
Time for man talk:
The box of food was now a disgusting pile of banana-peanut-orange-jellybaby-cashew mush, which Spike enthusiastically ate by the fistful. Yes, as many as six or seven nuts in a go. Unbelievable.
Athletes must reach the thirty two kilometre point within fourteen and a half hours of racing in order to continue up the mountain to claim a black t-shirt. All three of our stooges were well within this (by a couple of hours), but Jan-Sigurd was suffering badly from heat exhaustion, and lay down for a little rest, while Ole Jacob and Spike marched onward and upward.
Spike and Ole Jacob yack on:
At Stavsro they donned the mandatory mountain kit and Kristina accompanied them both into the mountain proper.
I went straight to Gaustablikk, the ski village where we were all staying that night. On the road I saw Jan-Sigurd, vertical again, pushing towards the mountain entrance, followed by fellow crew members Geir and then Irene. Irene put the Cheshire Cat to shame, her face was one massive grin. Her radiant smile made me intensely happy.
In the resort I found our room, sorted the car and kit and wallowed in the shower. Dag and Kalle were already relaxing with a beer.
On setting off into the mountain wilderness, a familiar face greeted Spike – it was only Mr Norseman himself, the man to blame for this madness, Hårek Stranheim, out for a stroll.
Spike and Ole Jacob nearly there:
Spike and Ole Jacob reached the hut at Gaustatoppen fifteen hours and thirty minutes after jumping into the fjord that morning.
Ah, how sweet. Spike and Ole Jacob holding hands:
The heat had probably slowed them down by about an hour.
The café was shut, so after a couple of minutes they started heading down, meeting Jan-Sigurd, Geir and Irene still climbing up, on the descent to the car park. Mission accomplished.
Kristina brought they guys back to Gaustablikk. Sleeping was done. After an excellent breakfast, the crew t-shirts were presented: seven blacks, two whites and nine big smiles.
New besties: Spike and Ole Jacob sport the latest look:
Geir is happy:
Spike and a radiant Irene:
Spike and I headed back towards Eidfjord and spent the night by Voringfoss waterfall, at the Fossli Hotel, which is caught in a 1930’s time warp.
In the Gang
Reinstalled in Bergslein, the race preparation was calm. After collecting the race gear from the secret bunker storeroom, we attempted to match banners with their flagpoles.
I proudly raised the power flags outside Bergslein.
The race was in town.
Some banners had metal stands, rather than spikes that can be hammered into the ground. The stands were not sufficiently stable to withstand the predicted weather, so Spike and I were tasked with finding a solution. Quite reasonably, the lady at the local builders’ merchant didn’t speak English. We were probably the only non-Norwegian speakers to frequent her establishment in the last twenty years. However, sadly, she appeared to be embarrassed about this, so wasn’t too helpful and we left empty handed I was rather disappointed that we had failed in our first quest. Would we be entrusted with another challenge, or be fed to the trolls?
On Monday afternoon, Line Amlund Hagen, the third member of the Norseman ruling triumvirate with Dag and Kalle, announced that we’d be going for a swim at 6pm. I don’t mind the occasional swimble – a few lengths in the pool or splashing in the waves at the beach. But getting into a fjord is a rather different kettle of fish. I don’t have a wetsuit, so made my early exit strategy clear from the start, predicting a dip not exceeding thirty seconds.
We drove along to the preferred jetty, where I gingerly lowered myself into the water. After the initial shock that I had actually got in, I realised that the temperature was not freezing. I swam around the jetty for a couple of minutes. What was happening? It felt gorgeous. With Dave and Line close by, I swam to the next jetty and back – about five hundred metres in total. I was in the water for about thirty minutes, rather than the previously envisaged thirty seconds. I absolutely loved it.
This new experience was exhilarating. I was avoiding some of the cold water risks:
• I was relaxed, not racing,
• I entered the water slowly, allowing my body to gradually adjust to the temperature,
• I was mainly doing breast stroke, keeping my head out of the water, to enjoy the scenery, and
• I, unfortunately, have a more than generous layer of sub-cutaneous lard to insulate my organs. In fact the fat is positively hugging my torso.
All the same, having read Jonny Hisdal’s reports http://www.nxtri.com/race_info/the_swim about the risks relating to cold water swimming, I now understand that safety dictates the need for a wet suit.
I could barely wait for 8am the next morning when we all jumped off the local jetty for a thirty second wake up dip.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dag asked whether I would be willing to introduce the Pre-Race Briefing on Friday afternoon. The organisers were keen to have a native English speaker at the briefing as many of the audience don’t have English as their native tongue. When I speak clearly, I am easy to understand. Without sufficient consideration I replied in the affirmative. Well, I have spoken to groups of people before and I regularly shout at eighty or more cyclo-cross riders as I call them up to the race start grid. I hadn’t thought this through. The Norseman Pre-Race is a big affair. There were 284 entrants (261 signed on at registration). Each athlete must have a support crew and, whilst a few have one supporter, many have two, and some have a van full. Then there are about forty crew members at the briefing.
Hmmm so that’s well over eight hundred people I’ll be addressing. Ho, hum. Let’s just keep busy doing other stuff and not dwell on this. OK?
The Tuesday evening fjord swim ended up being rather longer than intended as I misjudged which jetty I was heading for, resulting in a 1500m swim. Dave stayed close by and, whilst I was certainly not panicking, I was pretty whacked and relieved when I reached land. And I was dead chuffed with myself
By Wednesday several more crew were drifting into Eidfjord. After the early morning splash we were busy setting up the shop. The work rate ramped up significantly. There were stacks of boxes to be emptied, stock counted, clothes rails assembled and merchandise to be enticingly arranged. We were also issued our crew kit: logoed technical t-shirts and jackets, and a pair of Saloman off-road running shoes. Thank you very much. After a long day, we had a crew update meeting, to ensure that everyone knew their roles.
As there had been no opportunity for a long swim on Wednesday, and no prospect of a break during Thursday, Spike and I rose early and swam for thirty minutes before the thirty second splash crowd joined us. The water was noticeably cooler, and I stayed close to the jetty.
We were looked after magnificently. At first, when there was only a nucleus crew we shared breakfast outside Bergslein, whatever the weather – it’s easy to tip rainwater out of a butter tub, and were taken to local restaurants in the evening. One evening we had a Norwegian BBQ: hot dogs in the pouring rain. No wonder there is such empathy between the Brits and the Vikings. Once the numbers increased, the crew ate buffet meals at the Fjord and Fjell hotel (but we weren’t to sit at the best tables with the panoramic views of the fjord and mountains!).
Thursday was action stations. Swim hats and car stickers were numbered, goody bags filled and boxed up, tables arranged ready for registration to open at 2pm. Spike and I were assigned Q&A along with Jonny – our token Norwegian speaker
Most of the questions were from the sizeable French contingent. We managed to convince three separate groups of people to book accommodation near the race finish, and not to attempt to return to Eidfjord after racing. It was great to meet so many of the athletes and their support crews – even if some of them were in limbo, wondering whether their luggage would be delivered before the race start. It seemed as if the airlines couldn’t cope with more than three bikes in an airport.
On Thursday evening Line went through what I was required to say at the Pre-Race Briefing, including thanking the local singer, and leading a one minute silence in memory of a member of the Norseman family who died in an avalanche this spring. This meant that I had to pronounce their names properly. I spent a fair bit of the evening practicing.
“Rrrrrrraarnvayg Layerrrgreeed” I repeated to myself in bed.
Long-time crew member Rolf sat with us at breakfast, so I proudly reeled off the singer’s name.
“Hmmm. Not bad. But you’re pronouncing it wrong. And I know because she is my neighbour.”
I went back to the room chanting “Rrrrrrraarnvayg Layerrrgrayd”
The registration and Q&A teams were on duty all Friday morning. The pace was pretty manic, and we had to schedule in our lunch slots. After my lunch I went to the school where the Pre-Race briefing is held. I had a practice with the microphone. Espen, who was twiddling the knobs, was very encouraging. He assured me that when I welcomed everyone to the race, the audience would all whoop and go generally crazy.
During the singer’s soundcheck I was able to check how she pronounces her own name. I was nearly right. Now I had to adjust it to “Rrrrrrraarnva-ig Layerrrgrayd”.
The hall filled, buzzing with an anxious excitement. The lights dimmed and the Norseman 2013 video was shown. I had learnt not to watch, so that I didn’t have to go on stage wiping my eyes. Those videos don’t half make the room dusty. As the video ended, Rannveig came on stage and sang the most amazing plaintive folksongs, almost yodelling in a warbly way. Her voice was powerful and the music haunting.
When Rannveig completed her final song I mounted the stage and thanked her. There were no stifled giggles, so I must have been approximately ok. With a deep breath and a confident air I declared:
“Welcome to the 2014 edition of the Isklar Norseman Extreme Triathlon.”
I paused, ready for the tumultuous cheering, but could hear only silence.
So I moved swiftly on.
After the formal presentation there were more opportunities for questions in a variety of languages. I had the French and Spanish corner. All the questions were in French.
After tea we made up sandwiches ready for the next day and attended the final race crew briefing, where we were each assigned our roles for race day. I have attended six Norsemans, but, as I am not a participant, have never been on the ferry. I must have done something right, as Kalle reckoned that Line would need some assistance handling the press on the boat. Yay! Going on the boat was worth losing two hours sleep.
The alarm went off at 2:15am. I was at the quay for 2:45. Line checked that the press members attempting to board were on her approved list. They’re a pushy bunch; those without permission were always ready to try name dropping and threaten us with who was going to hear about this outrageous denial of their right to board. The athletes were all calm and composed – at least on the outside they were . Inside the boat there was a respectful hush as each athlete followed his or her routine – listening to music, yoga sequences and a lot of going to the loo. The more nervous athletes were chattering. As the boat approached the required position, wet suits were zipped up and the athletes began the walk towards the open jaw. It was a real privilege to be there. Once they were all in the water, heading to the row of canoes, I stood with Randi and the rest of the crew watching the heads bobbing in the water. When the fog horn sounded about ten feet from our heads I nearly leapt out of my skin. The race was on.
Having watched the swimmers for a couple of minutes, I headed upstairs with a bin bag and started collecting rubbish and discarded kit. Once the boat arrived back in Eidfjord, we collected all the numbered kit bags and delivered them to the appropriate slots in T1.
Time for porridge, packing the car and a long, difficult drive. My daytime role was to drive the chief referee, Dorthe, along the course. We were to aim to be along with the middle pack of the athletes, looking out for bad behaviour by athletes and their support crews. When a support crew or athlete is given a time penalty, the athlete has to serve it in a sin bin pen along the course (T2 and the 32km point on the marathon). Spike was also refereeing from the back of a motorbike. He had the red and yellow cards of power on his lanyard.
Before Dorthe and I left Eidfjord, her phone was already ringing with reports from marshals and refs of misdemeanours. She was also liaising between athletes who had lost their support crews, ensuring that marshals kept the athletes fed and watered, whilst explaining to the crews where to find their lonely friends. It was non-stop. And Dorthe was on top of the situation, jotting numbers and offences in her little black notebook, sending on messages for marshals up the course to ensure the sentence was served.
I had my first trip in the ferry that morning, now Spike was to have an even more exhilarating new experience. For seven years he has cycled past the main reason for coming to Norway. On race day we met up at the Dyranut Breakfast buffet. It was lush.
As we continued to Geilo, we followed a support crew camper van with an ambivalent attitude to road safety. Even as we followed them into the car park at Geilo they cut up an oncoming car. Dorthe, with her yellow card primed approached the felons. A couple of charming Frenchmen were distraught that their driving was considered dangerous and promised to be more attentive and less urgent in the future. They still got the five minute penalty.
Leaving Geilo, Dorthe spotted a crew member having a wee in full view of all. She was tempted to text them to explain that public urination is not acceptable in Norway. Then she thought better of it and ate some chocolate instead. Our minds were soon focussed on the next situation. Spike came across an athlete who had crashed hard on a fast descent. Dorthe was locating the nearest race doctor as we approached the accident site. The rider was soon on the move again, but the doctors all took a keen interest in him at T2 before allowing him to proceed.
Our car was a frenzy of activity all the way to T2. Here, Dorthe surveyed the land, looking out for support crews dressed in too much running gear, who might swap roles with the athlete for a few miles. Nothing escaped her eagle eye. Meantime, as I ambled around enjoying the fresh air I was greeted by our atrocious-driving Frenchmen. They oozed charm as they explained to me just how well behaved they had been since Geilo, and couldn’t I just rescind the yellow card as they are such reformed characters now. Keeping entirely neutral in this situation, I just mentioned that Dorthe is German, and asked whether they thought she would annul the violation. In a magnificent display of national stereotyping, they accepted their lot with a Gallic shrug.
We soon moved on to Zombie Hill, where we were concerned about support crews cycling on the wrong side of the road and parking dangerously.
As the road can get very congested at Stavsro, the entrance to the mountain, we let the motor bikes monitor the last few kilometres, so Dorthe and I got settled at Gaustablikk. I was getting pretty grumpy as it was now 6pm and the driving had been pretty stressful. So I showered and put myself to bed for a couple of hours.
At 8pm, a little refreshed, I located the white t-shirt finish, where I saw Mohamed Lahna paraded in by an unrelated Norwegian crew. They sang and “hupp”ed with all their might. It must have thrown up some dust which got in my eyes.
I went for some dinner and joined the finish line crew. I was soon entrusted with the clipboard of power, noting how many laps each athlete had done. It was bloody hard work, as we had to cheer and encourage every athlete and accompanying crew as they slogged the last few kilometres. The last athlete crossed the line at half past midnight, and, as with all the others before her, got a rousing reception to celebrate her achievement.
The next morning Spike was finally able to wear his new black t-shirt, which had been in the suitcase for a week.
Black T number 7:
As is usual, all the athletes were arranged on the benches and tables ready for a photo. We recalled that, in the past, after one photo, the photographer asks if those who did the crew race can join the picture. So Spike waited for this moment. But then they were all dismissed, and it transpired that the rest of the crew race finishers had already got in the picture. Oh well. No photo of him with Gaustatoppen in the background. As usual, all the support crews are assured that they will get to take photos just as soon as the official race pictures have been taken. And, as usual, the official photographer forgets to ask everyone to stay in place for the personal photos. I guess some things are traditions.
We had to scoot off sharpish as we had a 5pm flight to catch from Oslo. About an hour from our destination, as some unpleasant thudding noises got more frequent, the Check Engine symbol lit up. We carried on, and with a sigh of relief we limped into the airport car park. After a short tour of its many levels, we eventually found our agreed spot and made our flight home. Phew.
This really had been an exhilarating week. We met some amazing people and had an absolute blast. It was a knackering experience, and would jump at the chance to do it all again. Roll on Norseman 2015.
Did I really swim in a fjord?
Tandem Holiday June 2013 - Warning - May contain cats
Sun Sep 22, 2013 5:30 pm la marquise
Friday Home to Harwich
This year we wanted to find a new route to our destination. We hoped to take European Bike Express to Thionville, but found that this route only ran once in the middle of the summer and didn’t fit in with our schedule. So we looked for alternative means of transport. The furthest south you can take a tandem on a train, without too much hassle, is Luxembourg. I’ve never been there, so it was time to tick it off the list.
Our packing went to plan. Down to the bare minimum – 2 pairs of latex gloves is plenty, leave the other 3 pairs behind. And just the one set of tyre levers. Now that my hair has grown, I made an excellent purchase of a mini brush – 99p well spent.
The bike roadworthiness test was a turn round the block half an hour before we planned to leave. On returning home Dave discovered that the rear tyre was seriously shredded, so our departure was delayed by a few minutes while he changed it for an unripped tyre.
Getting to Harwich is an easy 40km ride into Essex. I had pre-booked both evening meal and breakfast on the boat as they did a deal. This was an error of judgement. Stena might say that you can board the boat at 8:45, but they don’t actually let you on board till 10pm, which is getting pretty late. We should have stopped in Harwich for fish and chips at a sensible time. Then, with full tums, gone straight to bed. The meal in the ship’s restaurant was delicious, just three hours later than we would have liked. Then you need to be up at five to make the most of the buffet breakfast at six and off the boat at seven.
Saturday Hoek van Holland to Luxembourg
We were delighted to be met at Hoek van Holland station by our old housemate, Sigurd. We had forty minutes before our train, and we managed to fill that time with a fifteen year catchup. Sigurd now speaks Dutch, Italian and a couple of Philippine dialects in addition to the languages he already knew. A particularly bolshy train conductor sold us tickets to Rotterdam – the bike cost more than we did. Goodbye hugs with the Great Dane and we were on our way.
At Rotterdam we managed to buy tickets straight through to Luxembourg. Did you know that VISA and Mastercard credit cards are rarely accepted in The Netherlands? For such an internationalist country, they are quite isolated in that respect. Fortunately I had just sufficient cash for the tickets. Rotterdam to Antwerp and Antwerp to Brussels proceeded without incident. In Brussels we could buy lunch with a credit card. Belgium ain’t Netherlands.
We found the bike carriage on the Brussels train that would take us all the way to Luxembourg City. We popped the big rear panniers under our seats and the little front ones on the overhead shelf. Through the first few stops the train was chock-a-block full through the Brussels suburbs. Gradually the number of passengers thinned. After Namur, there was just one other gentleman in our carriage. Dave decided that this was an excellent opportunity to make a minor adjustment to the handlebars. He went to grab the front pannier with the tools and spares from the overhead… to find that there was only one front pannier there. Bearing in mind that the other front pannier contained our passports, the good camera, iPod, both our phones, my purse (with credit cards), I would love to have seen the face of the scrote who opened the bag to find s/he had nicked a bike chain, inner tubes, a couple of spanners etc. It was a royal pain in the arse for us, but not a real problem. As it was, we had intended to treat ourselves to better quality (waterproof) front panniers for a couple of years. This just hastened our actions. The train guard was pleasant but utterly useless. He claimed that he didn’t even have a phone to ask the stations en route if the pannier had been discarded and found.
On arrival at Luxembourg City we went to the police station adjacent to the train station, where a couple of thoroughly lovely officers looked after me. I explained that I just needed a letter stating that I had reported the theft. They were going to post the letter to Ipswich, but then suggested that I call back at eight that evening and it would be ready for me to collect. I was then given an avuncular lecture on the safe bits of the city: “Get to the other side of the bridge, this side is full of bad people” and they googled for a good bike shop nearby. We popped the address into the Garmin and, on arrival, presented the proprietor with our shopping list. Once we had purchased all that he could supply, we were given directions to a DIY shop for spanners and an adventure shop for panniers. When the shop only has one model, the decision making is far easier. We now have some top of the range Vaude front panniers.
Purely by chance we arrived in Luxembourg on the Arch Duke’s official birthday. It is THE party night of the year for the principality. Although our hotel was on the wrong side of the bridge, it was very comfortable and friendly. They even dried our washing. We picked up our letter from my new pal, Inspector Osmanovic,
and crossed the bridge to the good side of the gorge.
The bridge itself was packed with trucks, which, in turn, were packed with industrial fireworks. They were gonna make a big boom. All of Luxembourg was out in the streets, in various parade costumes, parping a variety of brass instruments. I think that is the first time I have laid eyes on a white tuba. We ate well, but by half past nine my eyelids needed propping open. We had been up since five that morning and had not slept well on the boat. My bed on the wrong side of the bridge was calling quite loudly. Had the fireworks been scheduled for ten o’clock I would have stayed. But the Arch Duke likes to celebrate at midnight. We heard the booms, wished him a happy birthday, and nodded off again.
We do have previous form. Many years ago we were in Chiang Mai on 31st December – one of THE great places to celebrate New Year. By seven pm we were snoozy, so decided that a couple of hours shut eye would help. Next thing we knew was a zillion fireworks exploding. We didn’t see any of them. “Happy New Year, night night”.
Sunday Luxembourg to Pont-à- Mousson
Despite our wrong side of the bridgeness, nothing untoward happened to us. We had an excellent buffet breakfast and headed off South into France.
We rode part of La Route de la Voie de la Liberté (Liberty Road), which marks the route of the Allied Forces from D-Day in June 1944 to Thionville. At Terville we found a cycle path that meandered along the banks of the Moselle to Metz. Why is it that, when you follow cycle route signs, they peter out just as you approach a large town, when you particularly need to avoid the big roads?
The weather was rather grey and unpicnicy, so we were pleased to find a very tasty Italian restaurant with a more than passing interest in old movies. After a couple of near misses with major routes we resumed a riverside road to Pont-à-Mousson.
The tourist office was shut, so we had a drink in the bar nearby, where the owner swore blind that he didn’t have a copy of yellow pages. Using the sat nav we located two hotels, both of which looked run down and very closed.
Opposite one was a pleasant looking restaurant, where the waiter was more than happy to find us accommodation while I read a story book to the owner’s small daughter. This involved making animal noises. It transpired that one of the hotels was open, and the chap would be there in fifteen minutes. This gave us sufficient time to admire the waiter’s son’s R2D2 (aire deux dée deux) outfit made out of a cardboard box.
We weren’t filled with confidence when the hotel proprietor recommended that we locked the bike inside the hotel – our lock had been in the stolen pannier and we had decided not to replace it for the moment. As our room was on the second floor (old building with high ceilings) we weren’t going to carry the tandem up to our room. Fortunately we were closely followed by a group of five Austrians, who leaned their bikes on top of ours. If any bikes were going to be pinched, theirs would go first.
Cleaned up, we went in search of food. There seemed to be a choice of snack bars (insufficient for our needs) or really poncy (posher than we wanted). Amongst the kebab shops we spied a couscousier. Perfect. It was one of those places where all the customers chat across the room, and the delightful proprietor nattered away with everyone in a variety of languages. Despite us saying that we were on a tandem, he was only prepared to believe that Dave had cycled. Obviously, I had followed in a car. After a fabulous meal and much laughing and banter, monsieur advised Dave, most seriously,
“Soyez gentil à Susannah, elle est très bonne”.
For some reason I felt the need to remind Dave of this several times through the holiday.
That night I did not sleep well, convinced that this was going to be the “burgling holiday”. At three in the morning I crept downstairs, where tandy slept, blissfully unaware of my concerns. Then I managed a few hours kip.
Monday Pont-à-Mousson to Vittel
With a complete absence of theft (apart from my sleep) we headed south via Toul, rather than Nancy. We have learnt to avoid the big cities whenever possible.
The weather was still grey, so we decided on a strategy. If we saw a restaurant or bar that looked good any time after 12:15 we would stop. After 12:45 we would stop at any reasonable looking place. After 1:15 we’d take anything that served or sold food. Over the last ten years, village bars and shops have closed, just like they have in the UK. Twenty years ago there would be a bar and boulangerie in every village. Now you can ride through a dozen villages without any commerce. They are dormitory villages or holiday homes, with insufficient custom to maintain a food shop. By 1:30 we had eaten an energy bar each, and drunk some energy and all our water. Not a shop or eatery in sight.
At the marvellously named Repel, I knocked on a door to ask if they would fill our water bottles. The lovely Thérèse was most obliging, even asking if we wanted mineral water, and directed us to eat at Oëlleville, four kilometres away. It was a normal bar and the lady saw our need of food. It was probably well past lunchtime serving, but she rustled up a salad starter, and a hamburger topped with a fried egg together with the French Chip Mountain. I have never been served so many chips. I honestly could not manage them all.
With more than an ample sufficiency of food in tums we toddled off towards Vittel, a place of faded glory. Huge grandiose hotels are all up for sale. There is more than a tinge of dinge about the town. The very helpful tourist office found us a lovely chambre d’hôte. The couple were extremely welcoming and the facilities extensive. They had just acquired a new puppy and were in need of a name for him.
This day was a day of multiple food firsts. I chose a main course salad for tea. After too many chips at lunch, I was then presented with far more gésiers than I could eat. Stuffed, we waddled back to our room, where we slept like logs.
The next morning the puppy had been named Igor, and we were given home grown strawberries with our breakfast.
Tuesday Vittel to Gray
OK, so neither Dave nor I can remember anything happening this day. We remember starting along the D70 out of Combeaufontaine to find that it was a major road with a lot of large lorries, so at Vauconcourt we detoured off and found some lovely villages along tiny lanes.
Coming out of Roche et Raucourt the road turned into track. Fortunately this was only for 100m and we were back on tarmac heading towards Dampierre sur Salon. From here we followed a cycle route through Beaujeu and Rigny along the banks of the Saône then climbed up to the walled city of Gray.
We followed signs to the tourist office up in the ancient cobbled streets, only to be told that it was closed for the summer and we had to go back down the hill to find the summer tourist office at the bottom. The prominent tourist office was hidden behind a bank with no signs. It was tricky to even find the door to get inside. The rather snappy woman booked us into a chamber d’hôte back up the hill again. After the amiability of the super friendly lady at the Vittel tourist office, madame de Gray was the complete opposite. Being polite, you could call her business-like.
We arrived at the house in the charmingly named Rue du 12ieme Hussard. The hussars had departed, unfortunately monsieur had not yet arrived. Madame de Gray had called his mobile number and he was 20 minutes from home. When he did arrive he was most apologetic and could not have been nicer.
Our granny flat was comfortable and we had scrubbed up by the time madame arrived with a couple of their kids. Madame even put our clothes in the washing machine. Luxury.
We went for meal de posh that night, which lived up to its reputation of yumminess. Ooh profiteroles filled with cherries…
Our sleep was somewhat interrupted as the apartment had a glass door, and the security light outside was activated many times by cats doing cat stuff in the garden.
Next morning we met all the boys who showed us a multitude of toys and medals while we breakfasted.
Wednesday Gray to Baume les Messieurs
Something did happen this day. We followed a pleasant route through Noiron and Ougny and bought picnic food at Rans. The butcher advised us of a cycle path through the Foret de Chaux and directed us to a suitable bench on the river bank for our picnic.
As we left Rans we heard a clunk and foolishly decided to ignore it. The cycle path parallel to the D31 was clear with some wooden bridges to make it more interesting. A nasty noise developed and I realised it was the tyre rubbing. We stopped to inspect the damage. The aforementioned clunk was the shearing of the bolt that holds the rear pannier rack and mudguard in place. The end of the bolt was stuck in the bike-side hole. Oops.
A couple of passing cyclists asked if we were ok. Whilst the automatic response is “yes”, we managed to override the impulse and say “no”. On seeing our problem one of the guys rooted about in the bottom of his lucky dead bidon toolkit and found a heavyweight zip tie. This was most welcome. We transferred most of the contents of the sagging pannier into the other three panniers. The zip tie was holding OK, but we knew we had to get it sorted soon.
We stopped at the next village, Arc-et-Senans, for a post lunch hot drink: coffee for Dave, verbena for me. It was a tourist spot as it was opposite the world famous Saline Royale (Royal Saltworks).
We wondered where we would find an ironmonger that could supply a suitable bolt. The next reasonable sized town on our route was Poligny. Perhaps we would get the bike fixed there. On leaving Arc-et-Senans I yelled
There was a drive-on lawnmower, chainsaw and bike repair shop. The old boy peered and sucked his teeth a bit.
“Hmmm. I’ll look at it in thirty minutes.”
We settled down on some logs in the sunshine. The lad (at least ten years younger than le patron) sauntered up, diagnosed the problem, managed to grip the tiny bit of protruding bolt, and unscrewed it. After rummaging in some jars he found the correct size bolt and had soon fixed the rack and mudguard in place. As we re-sorted our possessions back into the left pannier, we discovered that we had overfilled the right pannier, which had, in turn, broken. A couple more bolts and a few euros later we were back on the road. The repair had only set us back forty five minutes, max. And that was the extent of our major mechanical of the trip.
At Poligny we were looking for the tourist office, but found the town hall. The mayor’s secretary/chief telephonist was very keen to help in between routing calls. She was concerned that she didn’t speak English, despite the fact that we were easily conversing in French. When she said that her maternal language was Spanish, I switched to make her feel comfortable. This was not a good idea. The conversation continued in French, but every so often she yelled a simple word in Spanish, as if that would help. My French is amply sufficient for booking a night’s accommodation. Ok, so my Spanish is better still, but her yelling “ochenta y dos” when I had already understood “quatre vingt deux”, was not adding much to the situation.
Eventually she admitted defeat and directed us to the tourist office up in the town square. I explained to the young man that we were keen to cover a few more kilometres that day, otherwise the next day would be too long. After some unnecessary dithering from me, we booked a chambre d’hôte at Baume les Messieurs.
A patisserie was required to ensure smooth running to our accommodation. Mine was lush.
We stopped at a viewing point over Cirque de Ladoye – a stunning gorge.
Four kilometres from our destination the road started to descend – quite dramatically. We took the hairpins gently and had the drum break fully applied. Baume-les-Messieurs is at the base of the valley, and made the Cirque de Ladoye look pedestrian.
Stunning is not doing it any form of justice. Two hundred metre limestone cliffs line the valley. In the centre is the most picturesque village with its own Benedictine Abbey. Our room was actually part of an extensive gite, next door to the town hall and opposite the bar/restaurant.
Dave was delighted that the restaurant had a welcome variation to one of his favourite meals. Tartiflette is a classic après ski dish of potato and lardons in a creamy reblochon cheese sauce, baked to get a good crust on top. This is accompanied by green salad, cold meats and pickles. At Baume-les-Messieurs this has been adapted to use one of the local cheeses, Morbier (the one with the dark blue-black line through the middle), and was renamed Morbiflette. Dave was happy.
Our landlady was Madam Lechat – and she had un chat (actually une chatte). It was friendly. We sat down to breakfast. Dave looked down to see the cat had lightly snuggled onto his lap. Cat did not want to move. Cat wanted to share breakfast. Cat was disappointed.
Thursday Baume les Messieurs to Lagnieu
One thing to consider when descending a cliff at the end of the day, is whether there is another route out of the valley in the morning. There isn’t another route out of Baume-les-Messieurs.
Your first four kilometres are uphill.
We took it easy, but were soon quite warmed up. We climbed to Crançot, and were surprised to find that the route through Nogna and Orgelet fairly flat.
After all the height we had gained the previous day (and refound that morning) we rode along by the Lac de Vouglans to the spectacular dam, then followed the Gorges de l’Ain, gently losing all our hard work.
Despite the lovely views, there was an absence of picnic spots. Eventually we found some logs, looking across fields on a side road, which was pleasant enough. Next we needed a café for a drink (and the loos).
After several dead villages we found an open café near Daranche. The place was a dump. The drinks were pretty foul. The loo was clean enough. La patronne smoked indoors (exceedingly unusual these days) and the dog had green paint on his tail. We didn’t hang about there. Leaving the banks of the Ain at Poncin we headed to Amberieu-en-Bugey.
The Garmin was not familiar with the town’s one-way system, so I walked along one street while Dave rode the tandem between bollards. One bollard jumped out and snagged a rear pannier. Suddenly Dave was resting on his arse in the road. NumpT. Suitably embarrassed, he got up quickly and didn’t mention quite how much he had grazed his arm and leg. It was only when we were getting cleaned up in our room in Lagnieu that I saw streaks of blood across his limbs.
The chambre d’hôte had several rooms on the second floor of a huge town house. When we were shown where we could hang up our clothes to dry in the small upstairs kitchen we noticed a washing machine. Dave was keen to use it, but I thought it too cheeky, as we had not been offered. However, once we had washed our kit through, we did pop it in for a spin. There was a tense moment when we couldn’t get the door to open (with our stuff locked inside) but some serious button pressing eventually released our trapped clothing and we got away with it.
Friday Lagnieu to La Bouretiere
As we approach La Drome our maps are increasingly covered in highlighter pen indicating previously ridden roads. Finding unpainted routes becomes quite a challenge. We edged eastwards through Morestel and descended into La Tour du Pin, wiggled through Ste Blandine, Doissin, Eydoch and were on familiar ground at la Côte St André. This is pretty much home territory.
I’m sure we’ve covered the route through Sarieu, la Mange and Thodure through the military lands to le Grand Serre before – but it’s probably coloured in on a different map. OK , so it’s only about seven kilometres to go, but we know that six and a half of them are uphill, and some of that uphill is seriously steep. This trepidation is countered by the welcome that awaits us. How much do we love our smallest gear? A lot. Slowly but surely we head up, and up, and up. Occasionally it’s more or less flat, but not for long. Mainly it’s up. Then there’s that familiar bend in the road, the curve downhill and the approach to the farm track which has to be taken at reasonable speed whilst avoiding the ever-increasing pot holes.
Oh my! Gouli is still alive. Just. He is very slow and creaky, but loves his tummy scrubbles. Kali was jealous, but got his share of affection. There is a lack of human presence. On the front door is a note
“Noel should be back by seven o’clock. Make yourselves comfortable in the usual room and have some apple juice from the fridge”.
We were showered and relaxing in the garden when Jaouen appeared, and then vanished. We enjoyed reading Margot l’Escargot – just the right level for our language skills. About eight o’clock Noel returned from his friend’s funeral. Ever the host, he soon had us armed with aperitifs.
They no longer officially do evening meals, as Isabelle has returned to the nursing profession. In the current economic climate a steady income is required. However, knowing that we’re on our bike and are now family friends, we are invited to eat with them. This means that we get approximately the same meal, but with less show. Also, it means that none of us have to make polite conversation with other guests – we can get straight on with our own chat.
How I love staying at La Bouretiere. Mmmmmm.
On Saturday morning we cycled to Saint Antoine via Miribel and Col de la Madeleine. Heading into the cathedral a strong Australian accent asks if we’re from Ipswich, Queensland. We disappoint him when we reveal that we’re from the original Ipswich. His parents live in the antipodean version. Someone is practising the organ while we sit and absorb the scents of fading incense and light filtered through the stained glass.
Right, it must be lunch time now. Next door is the delightfully named restaurant La Tentacion d’Antoine. As we eat, the grey skies turn darker and the ground gets wetter. Those clouds aren’t shifting. We put on all our wet weather gear and head off to Roybon and Le Grand Serre.
We have booked a session at the Oasis spa. The only problem is that it’s at the top of another hill. We climb. Some morons want to drive beside us on a very narrow lane, to tell us some undoubtedly hilarious joke. They’re probably telling Dave that I’m not pedalling on the back. Oh. Never heard that before. I’m not really listening as all our effort is directed at staying on the tarmac and getting to the top of the hill.
In the spa we are escorted to the changing room. We don our swimmers and hang up some of our soggy kit in the cloakroom. After cleaning up we can get down to the serious business of relaxing.
First station is the massive Jacuzzi, then the warm steam room, then the hot steam room, relax in the lounge and repeat as necessary. Dave is in the minority. Access is restricted to about a dozen clients at any time. All the other visitors are women. No surprise there. Having been chilled to the bone in the rain we are now warmed right through. It’s calm and enveloping.
We know that our time is limited as a private party will arrive soon, but none of the staff hurry us. We ask for our locker key, Dave opens the door to the changing room – only to find it occupied by two women. Fortunately they were just about dressed. The young women working there insist that it doesn’t matter! Umm yes it does matter. We apologised profusely and the ladies were quite relaxed about the interruption. Now we had to put our cold wet cycle clothes back on and head back up to the farm.
Sunday La Bouretiere to Valence
Sunday morning requires some extensive kitten cuddling. Before setting off Dave checks the panniers for miaowings.
We have established a good route to the bike pick-up. Setting off at noon we get to Saint Donat sur l’Herbasse (aka St Donut) for lunch of ravioli and a particularly tough steak.
After Clérieux and Curson, we cross the Isere at Chateauneuf sur Isere Through Alixan there are some new roads and cycle routes, so we’re not sure exactly where we went. On the outskirts of Chabeuil we were delighted to find a boulangerie and a produce store, sufficient to get a great picnic for the coach journey. When we arrive at the pool in Beaumont les Valence I was most disappointed to find a young man at the desk.
“Where’s the blonde lady who is usually here?”
“Oh, Anise? She’s just taking a break. Go through and see her.”
Sure enough, the lovely Anise was taking five. On seeing the cycle kit she looked up with astonishment and pleasure. I got a big hug and kisses.
“Quick! Get these people a refreshing drink. They’ve been cycling. Open the gate to get the bike in”.
We were treated like royalty. I suspect that not a lot happens in Beaumont les Valence. Even I enjoyed a few lengths of refreshing dip and we took it easy for a couple of hours. One man took a good deal of interest in the bike till he plucked up courage to talk to us. As a keen cycling tourist himself, he invited us to stay with his family that night. Very kind, we said, but we’re going home in an hour.
I phoned the bus to check whether it was on schedule. It was, so we packed up, said our farewells and tootled gently off, trying to keep cool over the five kilometres to the meeting spot. This trip we had sufficient time to change clothes and sort our kit and food for the journey.
Soon we were cycling to Shenfield station.
Puss told us that he hadn’t eaten for a week. He is such a liar.
Dave ordered a selection of heavy duty zip ties from the internet.
Inspired by Margot l’Escargot, I ordered Grace la Limace.