River Danube Tour Day 15: Oh Rats!

If you have been following the blog you will of read that we have been sweltering in 36-41 degree heat the entire trip.  You will of also have read yesterday we got to our digs just before a beast of a storm came in at about 1730 and did not stop until about 0400.

When we woke it was still chucking it down with rain, the colour of the sky really makes the immediate environment look and feel completely different.  But we were actually looking forward to a cooler day even though it was grey.  After falling behind with my planned stages we knew we had a hard day of at least 100km to keep the dream alive of cycling in to Budapest tomorrow.  You know what we did 106km today.  It leaves about 75km to do tomorrow.

The guide book states that today would be a horrible ride.  Industrial scenery and a day when for about 50% of the time you are on a road where cars drive fast past you.  As we had read the guide we were not expecting the scenes we have ridden through previously and we knew this was a day of heads down and kick some ass.

BTW:  I have forgotten to mention how cheap everything is in Hungary.  Last night we had about five beers each, coffees, main and desserts each for 30 quid.  Today we had two coffees two small pizzas and a Danish to share for £2 and tonight we have had the most amazing meal in a beautiful restaurant.  Starters and mains each.  A desert to share, three beers each a coffee and Irish coffee for again 30 quid.  Our hotel room for the night is £39.

So this morning we got to the bikes that were in an unused part of the hotel.  Rachaels bike had a flat so I had to fix that before we moved.  When we set off I realised that my GPX files for the route were missing from my device so I had to do some manual navigating all morning until we got to the next stage that was available in my Garmin.

We were riding up the road and Rachael saw this creature bounding up in front of us.  As we had seen such amazing animals we slowed down to take a look.  It was a big rat, and it was not even bothered that we were only a foot or so away from it.  I thought about taking a picture, but the thing would have attacked.  We went past a squashed snake too.

What was annoying about this morning was the fact they are still organising the route in these parts and it was deviating all over the shop.  I could see our target location and it never seemed to get closer as we were zig zagging across fields and other off-road places.  Now if we did not have the deadline I would have much prefered the route it put us on, but we had kilometres we needed to eat so I was getting frustrated by the lack of progress.

The Bromptons have been really good.  We again caught up and passed another couple that were on a big three month tour.  They were on traditional touring bikes made by Condor, but they were slipping and sliding as we went past with our small wheels.  Now I just want to make it clear! I am not saying Bromptons are the perfect touring bike, they are just a bike like any other. Every bike as negatives and positives, there are always going to be concessions and compromises to make with any bike when tackling a long tour over different surfaces.  I love all bikes, and I think these little small wheeled chariots are a funky fun bit of kit.

When we got half way through the day I had the GPX files on my Garmin and the route was just a straight road, we made up all the time we had lost in the morning and we were at our destination town by 1630.  As I were keeping the Km numbers secret from Rachael because we had previously discussed she feels better when kept in the dark.  We had a plan that when I said we were stopping for a beer, she would then know that we were only 2km away.  As we were riding on roads I left the beer stop until we were actually at our destination and that was welcome news to Rachael as she thought we had another two hours to ride.

The road we were riding on was very busy and very fast.  Now as you may know I hate cars!  I hate them for the environmental aspect, I hate them for the arrogance.  But one of my biggest things is the noise!!!  When you have been cycling in complete peace and quiet and you have to come up against the noise again, it just winds me up.  If I was to walk down the street with a music player with the same noise I would be arrested, but for some reason it is allowed to come from these things that can also kill you.  How strange is society!!!

Anyway.  The sun started to come out and the town that we ended up in is amazingly beautiful!

I am so chuffed with the progress, grit and attitude that has got us to this stage.  We have booked a top class hotel to celabrate in tomorrow night in Budapest.  Fingers crossed the last day will be as sweet and trouble free as all the others.

River Danube Tour Day 14: Storm Beaters!

We arrive at our hotel with only 5 mins to spare.  When we were about 10km from Gyor our final destination, fork lightening was coming down in the distance.  The wind picked up and we heard a bit of thunder.  When we were about 200m from our destination the sun came out and we thought we had side swiped another storm.  I saw a hotel and it looked good so went to have a chat at reception about the cost.  As I was in there chatting the sky went black and the thunder roared and the lightening is crashing down with no gap in between.  The thunder is shaking the ground and the rain is lashing.  But we are inside.  I gave Rachael a high-five as we got here dry as a bone!

Today we have done another 120km.  I worked out this morning that to make up our deficit day we needed to do 100km days right to the end.  After chatting with Rachael we realised that she does not like to know the numbers of the day, so today I kept her in the dark and we just kept on riding with no pressure.  I might take this info to school leadership.  No targets and you do more and enjoy what you are doing, now there is a concept we can all get on board with 🙂

Anyway.  Today we have done 120km’s.  I just had to say it again cause Rachael is being amazing.  I did promise her a few days off on this tour, but with the heat we have been chasing the kilometres instead of having rest days.  When we got to Bratislava today I did ask her if she wanted to get a boat or something the rest of the way, she looked at me like I had asked her to jump off a high bridge into the Danube.  When she gave me that look I knew we were right on for riding.  As she had broken her 100km milestone a few days earlier, I was going to see if I could help her with her 100 mile, milestone.  You know what?  If it was not for the storm I think she would have been very happy to carry on a bit further.  But by doing that 120km today we are on track now to ride in to Budapest!  I will be so chuffed if we can do it as it is pushing logistics and planning to the limit to  make this one happen 🙂

By the way.  Today we have cycled through three countries.  We started in Austria, went through Slovakia and now we are in Hungary!  What a day.  Some comparisons about the countries which might be a bit ignorant or stereotypical and I apologise about that if it sounds like I am being rude.  In Germany and Austria they did not take VISA or MASTERCARD in most places.  They like to use an EU card to make purchases.  Slovakia and Hungary, cards no problem.  In Germany the cycle track was mainly gravel, in Slovakia and Hungary so far they have been tarmac.  I am not wanting them to be tarmac it is just an observation.  I think we need to have minimal amount of impact when creating paths in areas of beauty.  In Germany and Austria we never had 4G.  In Slovakia and Hungary we have 4G everywhere.

It is still storms outside, so I am going to get a shower and get out for tea in a nice restaurant.  We have not had beer in the last couple of days as it as been so warm I have been supping cola.  Today we will have a beer to toast another good ride with my good lady!

Cheers 🙂

River Danube Tour Day 3: By Gorge!

This was a very hot ride.  It has been 33 degrees every day, but today the ride was fully exposed.  No shelter from the sun in forests.  At the end I just needed loads of Cola!  I still need a drip of it now.  The temp is recorded on my GPS device so it is accurate.  33 degrees every single day.  Today we really pushed ourselves and did 93km.  It is hard in this heat with this weight on the bike.  The bikes are doing an excellent job, even when the gravel tracks get really rough.  We can hold our own with the people on their electric bikes!

We are having a big problem trying to find camping gas.  They don’t stock it in supermarkets like they do in France etc.  I never had a problem when I was in Canada or the USA as well.  You ask anyone about small camping gas bottles and they look at you like you have just come from Mars or direct you to the fizzy water isle :).  We have had to have a cold tea at camp today.  But it did not matter cause of the heat.  We have been eating in restaurants previously, because of the gas situ, but we really need to keep an eye on the pounds too.

The route today went through beautiful gorges with castles perched right on the edge.  We saw an opening on the river that was good for a paddle and a wetting of the hair to try and cool our heads.  There have been loads and loads of big birds of prey, heron and fish in the river to spot.

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The Three Stage Of The Grand Depart Completed By Simple Yorkshire Folk

Even though it was only three days of riding it is very difficult to think back about about what we did.  All the rides tend to blur together as one long slog.  That makes it sound like a chore, but I can guarantee if you have not attempted anything like this, you just need to give it a go.  When you get to the top of a hill and the wind is blowing, the rain is making you cold, trust me you can still laugh about it.  So here goes, I will try and tell the tale.

Day 1
Stage 1
116 miles
8500 ft accent

Alarm went off at 0530, making my way to Robbo’s house for 0600.  When I arrive Jeerve has his bike on its back.  He has a flat, I fixed one for him the day before and Robbo also fixed his brakes the day before as well.  So not a good start, but we were filling up on lovely tea and bacon sarnies made by Julie.  Thank you very much Julie Robinson.  We noticed that his tyre was shot so we swapped the whole wheel from one of Robbo’s spare bikes.  Job done.  On our way at about 0650.

The official route starts in Leeds, but we picked up the route in Skipton because it is the same number of miles on nicer roads.  Who wants to ride around Leeds City centre? The first bit of the morning was cold and a bit overcast, but it was still pleasant riding conditions, taking it easy having a nice conversation.  We did not stop in Skipton but carried on up through Grassingtion.  We stopped for our second breakfast at about 1000 in what could be the most expensive coffee shop in Yorkshire, six pound for a bacon butty or beef sarnie!  

It was after this stop that the weather started to get really bad.  At one point we had a stonking head wind and the rain was driving horizontal.  We knew to break the back of this one we needed to get Buttertubs out of the way before we had lunch.  Buttertubs has a few steep sections, but it does have the bits in-between to get back into your rhythm before the next steep section.  Our group did not find it too bad although there was a bloke doing the hill that had to zig zag it up, much to the annoyance of some car drivers even though the only way it was effecting them was the fact they might of had to touch the clutch and change gear, what an inconvenience 🙂

Going down the other side of Buttertubs is a nice reward though, a couple of sharp bends the pro riders will need to take care, but I am sure they will of done plenty of homework.  With Buttertubs out the way we stopped for some dinner, a burger in a lovely little village, Jeerve you are going to have to comment on this blog and fill in all the places we stopped because I am rubbish at remembering.  It had a lovely real fire and we were soaking wet so we really needed to get in front of it to eat.  When we had finished our food we got back in our wet clothes and made our way outside.  It was so cold and windy my knees where shaking and my teeth were chattering.  We did not have to wait that long for the next big hill and that soon warmed us back up.  The weather started to get a bit nicer for our run into to Harrogate, but it was one of those roads where milage signs to your destination do not exist and we were just batting for home.  Even though you know approximately how long it will take, it is always nice to have road signs that keep you focused and count you down to your target.

We got into Harrogate in good time and found our guest house.  It was lovely really nice spot and only walking distance to the centre.  We had a pint and we needed to find food quick sharp because Robbo was starting to act like a diva, the beast needed pacifying!  We found a spot, Robbo and the guys went for a mixed grill, it looked lush.  With hungers sorted a couple more drinks then bed.  We needed to get up to meet Darran Jugroop in Costa at about 1030.  

Day 2
30 miles
1700 ft accent

This was just a steady ride to get to York to start Stage 2 the following day.  We used the day to give our legs a run and stop off for a magnificent Sunday lunch in Tadcaster.  When we got to York, it was another lovely guest house.  They let us put our bikes in their summer house.  We hit the streets for a couple of pints and a fish supper.  Spot on!  We had to get up very early the next morning because we knew Stage 2 was going to be a long hard day.

Day 3 
Stage 2
120 miles
10,075 ft accent

This stage goes from York past Harrogate on to Keighley, Haworth, Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield, Holmfirth, Holme Moss then down into Sheffield.  It did feel a bit strange doing a tour and then riding on some of the roads you ride on a regular basis, mainly the roads around Hebden Bridge and Ripponden.  When you look at the profile of this route compared to Stage 1, they are completely different beasts.  Stage 2 does not let up even in the last stages you still have hills.  Check out the pictures below to see the difference.  One thing to note though.  Stage 1 takes you through some beautiful countryside, through little villages on calm roads.  Stage 2 is all busy roads, loads of cars, loads of noise.  The places it goes through are nice, they just don’t compare to the old Yorkshire feel of the first stage.  But busy roads will not be a problem for the pro riders in the summer.  It has to be noted some of the roads have shocking pot holes, some you could put your foot inside and they would be up to your ankle.  Stuff like this needs to be sorted for every road user not just because an event is coming through.  So this route takes you up over some big climbs.  One of them is Blubberhouse.  I did not find it too bad and we were up and over quite quickly but Nic got a puncture half way up so we had a bit of a wait at the top in the cold. 

 From here we had a steady climb up to Silsden and through Keighley.  We stopped off at Aire Valley cycles to put some more pressure in Nic’s tyre.  We got to the top of the climb out of Keighley, by the crossroads that take you to Haworth and Nic’s wheel went again, this time taking the tyre.  A plan was hatched.  Robbo took the wheel down to the shop, Darran, Jeerve and myself carried on doing the route.  Robbo and Nic would bypass the Haworth loop and catch up with us in Hebden Bridge.

I think the Haworth section is the hardest bit of the whole UK stages.  The little hill up to Haworth, then the cobbles THEN, a silly little hill that takes you over the reservoir then down into Oxenhope.  It was at the start of this hill when I had a slight worry that my legs might be gone.  But we got over and it made the climb over Cockhill Moors into Hebden Bridge seem a piece of cake.  I have to say the conditions at this stage were the best I have experienced over that hill.  It is normally very windy.

We stopped in Hebden for a coke and waited for Robbo and Nic, they were only ten minutes behind.  We set off up the Cragg, again perfect conditions, it was calm, there might of even been a steady tail breeze.  It felt good to get to the top and the ride down in to Ripponden was a treat.  The next bit of the ride was not going to cause any issues.  It was simply a case of up Ripponden Bank, up past Blackley Cricket Club then down into Huddersfield.  From here we cruised to Holmfirth and after a bit we stated to see the beacon of Holme Moss.  At this stage I was not too bothered, people give hills these names and reputations and I was thinking we have done a lot of them now and you just get your head down and the next thing you know you have done it, so that is what we were going to have to do.

There is a little steep bit at the start and then that leads to some hairpins, very reminiscent of Alp d’ Huez.  Just a lot less of them.  When on the hairpins it is quite an easy uphill and I started to think if it is like this all the way to the top it was going to be real easy.  It looks like the hairpins do take you to the top as well.  They have put markers on the road to tell you how far you are from the top but these seem to go down very slow when you start to tire.  When I got to the top of the hairpins I saw what was in store.  The road straightens up and this was the hardest part of the ride, you are just short of a mile from the top at this point, but the tarmac starts to feel very sticky.  Out of the saddle and just try and take the burn is all you can do.

There was not much time between us all.  Darran was at the top first, then me, Jeerve, Robbo and Nic.  We were all within a couple of minutes of each other so it was not a problem at the top.  A few pictures then the realisation that we have done that big hill after 90 miles and we still have 30 to go. Because of Nic’s tyre problems we had lost a bit of time and we were started to fear it could get dark before we made Sheffield so we needed to crack on.  You have a beaut decent the other side of Holme Moss, then it is up again to near enough the same elevation you have just come down from.  At this part of the ride it was just head down and lets get to Sheffield.  We saw a sign that said 16 miles to Sheffield so we blasted on.  Then after a time when we were expecting another sign to say 6 miles at the most it said 24.  How can this be.  Confusion set in, but Garmin got us on track and the actual milage from Sheffield was 11.  So crack on we did and we made Sheffield just as it was starting to get dark.

After we checked into our Travelodge and took our bikes to our rooms, it was a quick shower and change to meet John and Stuart.  They took us to a lovely real ale bar for a drink.  It was late at this point so we knew our only food option might be a curry.  We got directions to a decent one and jumped in a taxi, it was closed.  We needed food so it was going to have to be a takeaway.  Kebab it would have to be.  I went in and ordered a King Kebab, expecting it to be a very large kebab, in fact it turned out to be a very large kebab, chips and salad pizza.  I was not worrying about the calories after a ride like that so I ate as much as I could.  In the morning we set off to Cambridge for the final UK stage that runs from Cambridge to London.
Day 4
Stage 3
82 miles
3000 ft accent
Up early paid for breakfast then straight to the van hire place.  Bikes in and set off down to Cambridge.  We had our non-refundable train journey back at 2030.  We did not arrive in Cambridge and get sorted till about lunch time so it was started to be another realisation that we need to get a move on to meet our train or this is going to be an expensive journey home.

It was a lovely day and the route takes you though some really nice villages.  Thaxted would of been a nice place to stop for lunch but we just did not have the time, so it was a quick pasty stop and crack on.

We got to London and the Garmin helped us navigate the city without too many issues and we made King Cross station with about an hour to spare.  Nic sorted the collection of the pre-paid tickets and we had a nice pint in the station pub.  Made the trains and home we headed.
So to conclude.  Why do we do it?  At times you do regret being put under the time pressure, but it is exciting and it is a laugh.  The first stage would of been truly spectacular if we would of had the weather of Stage 2 and Stage 3, but it was still an enjoyable day out.  You are in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. so the wind and the rain can try there best, but it is still a pleasure to be there.  The roads on Stage 2 were busy but it does feel good when you can say you did all those hills and miles in one day.  Then there are the people.  I really enjoy our tours.  They are jokes to be had and it is a real bonding experience.  So thank you for your company Jeerve, Darran, Robbo, Nic and lets get planning NHGS Annual Cycle Tour 2015 to be something special. 

Grand Depart Packing & Prep

I have used a website called www.plotaroute.com to map out the exact route we need to follow to complete the actual stages of the tour.  Now I don’t know if I was doing anything wrong but I could not get Google Maps to do a similar job.  It always wanted to take you on the shortest path between the two points.  I also tried right clicking and adding points at shorter intervals but that was taking forever and Google Maps only lets you do that about 10 times, so I had to find alternative websites.  I have heard of people using Google Earth to plot routes, but I find the distinction between Google Earth and Google Maps a bit confusing.

http://www.plotaroute.com worked well though and you can then ask it to print out directions and it will also show you your ups and downs (elevation) which is a good indication of when you will be smiling and when you will be grinding teeth 🙂

I also have a Garmin 800 and I have never used it to plot a route.  I have just used it to show me where I am, then when I was in France I just used a paper map to plan where to go next.  

Again if you were to leave the device to plot a route you would just go the shortest way between the points, so I downloaded the Garmin BaseCamp software and created custom routes and uploaded them to the device.  On the device these get stored as courses.  Like I say it is the first time I have done this so we can see how it will work on the ride. 

When we cycled and walked the National Three Peaks (Ben Nevis, Scarfell, Snowdon) we needed to carry a bit of kit with us.  We were away for six days and we needed clothes to relax in at the end of the day and clothes to walk the mountains in as well.  Jervis and Roger had panniers and the rest of us had some sort of large saddle bag.  I think for this trip I am going to try and travel really light and just use a ruck sack.  We just need a toothbrush one set of cycling gear and one set of clothes to relax in on an eve.  Underpants don’t weight that much so I am sure I will be fine with a bag 🙂

The temperature has taken a little bit of a dive again so I need to ensure I have enough layers and I have my Buff with me.  I am still getting slightly annoyed with this wind when on the bike, it does not seem to be letting up at the moment.  We have had one nice cycling week since Christmas, and thats it.  It better start changing soon!

As I stated in my last blog, my Pacific Coast maps have arrived and I am very impressed.  They are waterproof and tear resistant and have all the information you will need to get to your destination.  They just show the intended route in detail and not the area surrounding the route.  So if you are planning on doing some touring off the Adventure Cycling suggestion you will need to buy standard maps of the area.  The Adventure Cycling maps come with additional information such as the locations of:

  • Digs
  • Food & Drink
  • Services (post office etc)
They also have a section on the conditions you are likely yo encounter such as the amount of traffic on roads and the weather.  There is another section that gives you a history of the area.  This section I will find very useful try to act all informed and intellectual in my on route videos.  Taking of videos I was going to create a video to showcase the maps but our friends at www.americabycycle.com have already done that so there is no point in me doing another.  The video is below.

Today I supervised some students that were practicing their bronze DofE Award.  A really nice day to be outside.  The students were just walking so I cycled alongside, let them navigate, let them make a few mistakes, then see if they could get us back on track and even though it was just walking pace, it was still 20 miles and 3100ft of assent.  So we could of gone up Ben Nevis…… nearly another 1000ft maybe 🙂

I still don’t have a road bike after my crash, so Mark at PedalSport, King Cross, Halifax has kindly lent me his winter bike to do this Grand Depart tour starting tomorrow.  So it is going to be 120 miles, 50 miles, 120 miles and finish with 100 miles.  As it is not my saddle and not shaped to my bum bones I know I am going to be in some discomfort over the next few days!

Meeting at Robbo’s at 0600 for bacon buts and tea (I hope).  Updates to follow!!!!

Pacific Coast maps have arrived!!!!


Starting to get very excited now my Pacific Coast maps have arrived from www.adventurecycling.org

The route is spilt into five maps of about 400-500 miles each.  I am just imagining the excitement of riding up into and through a forest of big Redwood trees and then in another scene cruising up to Golden Gate Bridge.  Also wondering what the theme song to the video will be on that day.  I will give a full review of the maps on Friday.  

I have also been into PedalSport at King Cross, Halifax, my friendly and very helpful bike shop to check on Lucile 2.0 progress, things are coming along nicely.  I have been doing a lot of reading about how to pack your bike up for plane travel and there are a lot of conflicting ideas.  Some reputable sites such as the CTC recommend just putting the bike in a big plastic bag (see image below).  

The idea behind this is that people will respect your belongings if they know what they are lifting.  There are a lot of  experiences out there that seem to back up that theory.  I don’t think I can be that trusting so I had originally planned to use a proper hard case that racers use to carry their pride and joys around (examples below).  BUT

This had a few logistical obstacles the main one being as I am going in and out of different airports, how would I get the box waiting for me at the airport in San Diego.  To get around this problem I researched FedEx and UPS and they have depots walking distances from each airport so I could just get those guys to send and store until I got there.   But after having a word with my guys at PedalSport we think a big cardboard box how bikes arrive in shops will be perfect, providing it is packed properly. Then at the end of my trip pop into another bike shop in San Diego for another cardboard box to come home.  As was pointed out to me by Mark at Pedal Sport brand new bikes are shipped all around the world in these boxes so it should be ok.  I am well aware that when the are new they will be on nice pallets neatly packed together in bulk and not getting slung around cargo, but I am going to have some faith.

So even though this trip seems quite a way off just yet (four month) I am getting some good research done.  I do need to think about a list of things I need buy because this is slightly different to my tour around France.  In France I could use my CampinGaz stove, nearly every shop over there would sell the fuel.  

But they will not have that brand in the states so I need a different cooking unit.  So I think I am going to get one that can work of petrol and diesel, As this will be easy to come by.  There are a few options, Coleman and MSR are probably a route I will go down.

I also want to purchase a cool camera to get action bike footage as well.  My options are the GoPro HERO 3 Black or the new Garmin VIRB.  If anybody has experience or advice, please feel free to comment.
On Saturday we set of to do our Grand Depart thing.  400 miles in three days.  Last night I thought I best plot the official route with directions.  It does look quite hilly, but nothing us boys can’t shake off for more of the same the next day and the day after that etc 🙂

Just to finish off this blog can now be accessed through two new domain names.  www.icycleiadventure.com and www.icycleiadventure.co.uk.  Please band them around to interested parties.