This time last week the boys were cycling the last leg of their mammoth cycle from Dartmoor to Sete in the South of France. The ride saw them cover nearly 1500km in just under 2 weeks.
I think it’s fair to say they had a fantastic time & certainly it’s an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, but one week on (now my hubby is once again capable of speech & lucid thought) what are their thoughts about what they did & how they did it & of course ……. would they do it again?
Their planning was good & they had really covered just about everything that was needed – quite impressive as this was the first time they’d done a ride lasting longer than 1 day!
They spent time setting out a route that suited them, without sticking rigidly to the pre-defined cycle trails, marking it onto a map and loading it onto the Garmin Edge before they went.
The camping equipment they had chosen was lightweight and they had managed to cover everything they thought they would need (including high capacity charging blocks – to keep all necessary bits fully charged) – in fact in the end they actually had bought too much, but more of that later.
This was a really difficult one as ideally it would have been best to do a ride like this on Touring Bikes, but the big question was would the boys ever ride them again on rides around Devon? And sadly the answer was no…………So instead they chose bikes that would be up to doing such a challenge, but at the same time would be sleek enough for the boys to want to ride after the event.
After a packed day at the Cycle Show in Birmingham talking to manufacturers & test-riding some of the options they decided to buy Raleigh Mustangs for my hubby & youngest & a Gravel bike for our eldest.
These seemed to give them the best of all-worlds with the key factor being that they would feel happy riding them around the back-roads of Provence or Devon & even tackling Mont Ventoux on them afterwards.
In fairness the choice worked well for my hubby & eldest, but the youngest’s rear wheel was a constant niggle from day 2 (after having performed without a hitch in training) – it may be that it was just that one bike that had a glitch, but with a lot of effort from Tom it did make it to the finish line and he loves it, which is the important thing!
The boys certainly covered some miles in training for the ride, although our eldest will happily admit to having done the least!
We are lucky living where we do in Devon, as we have lots of good quality off-road cycle trails within easy reach & these gave the boys great training rides that would mimic a lot of the routes that they would be using during the ride itself.
Their training was much more about sitting on the saddle & covering the distance, rather than going uphill at speed. The aim was to develop stamina and harden off their bums and it has to be said that the plan worked well as no bum pain was reported by anyone at any time in the ride through France
Towards the end of the training period they also rode with all the kit they would be carrying – giving them a better understanding of what it would feel like and also a bit of experience in negotiating their way through busier areas, with very wide loads!
Q4. The Ride
A lot of people say that on a long ride they get tired of just having to get on the bikes & turn the pedals each day. That certainly wasn’t the case for Andy & the boys & in fact with the chaos of the early morning routine, Andy says the first time he relaxed each day was when he started to cycle. The boys were the same & cycling each day never became a chore, but was just a delight, regardless of whether they rode for 50 miles or 90 miles.
The main problem was the state of the cycle routes, which differed greatly from Department to Department, often changing drastically on the Boundary lines. At times the routes were almost uncyclable (particularly the early stages & approaching Carcassonne) and they often found themselves rejigging the route to use back roads instead.
Here the fact that they had taken the 1:150,000 Michelin maps covering the whole route proved invaluable & it was worth finding space for them in their panniers.
Q5. To Camp or Not to Camp?
The boys set off with the best intention to camp throughout their trip, having invested in lightweight kit and marking all possible sites on the maps they’d be carrying.
They did worry they may struggle to find sites, but in fact they didn’t at all – what they did struggle to find though were camp sites where they could get a decent night’s sleep!
At the end of each day they just needed to be able to have a shower, something to eat, relax and then have a good night’s sleep and it was clear that decent showers & a good night’s sleep were not easy to come by.
Showers tended to be operated on a push-button system (not conducive to relaxing after a day in the saddle) and their sleep was usually disturbed by nearby music events (one till after 4am) or inconsiderate people on the site (one playing guitar & bongos)
So in the interests of their sanity coupled with the fact that despite their best efforts (including Andy’s highly innovative kit-washing technique) they smelt like a rather ripe Roquefort Cheese – they started to book into hotels for the odd night ( well 3 out of the last 4 nights) just so they could have a much needed night’s sleep and a decent wash.
I’m sure in hindsight that this was because they were on camp sites in the height of the season and probably at other times of year this wouldn’t have been so much of a problem, but even so I think they’ll be looking at ‘credit-card’ touring in future!
Q6. Panniers or Trailers
During the planning the boys had looked at what would be the best way to carry their kit en route and after looking at panniers and trailers, plumped for panniers (Ortlieb waterproof ones) and additional dry bags.
One of the reasons for this was that the load could be spread across all 3 bikes and the boys would be fully involved by carrying their own kit.
In the end the plans changed en route due to the problem with Tom’s rear wheel and there was an impulse (and trip-saving purchase) of a lightweight 2 wheeled trailer from a shop in La Rochelle.
This was big enough to carry all the kit that had been on Tom’s bike, together with other bits from the other bikes (although other bits they had packed but hadn’t used were either binned or packaged up & sent in by post).
It fitted quickly & easily to either of the ‘healthy’ bikes and so could be towed by either Andy or George, although when fully laden I think they should have been displaying ‘Convoi Exceptionel’ signs too!!
In fairness it proved to be an ideal purchase & carried the equipment well. The only time it became more cumbersome was on the appalling cross-field track near Carcassonne, where its 2 wheels really struggled in the rutted tracks
Having used both now Andy thinks that if he were to do a similar ride again in future he would look at using 2 single-wheeled trailers instead, carrying all the equipment & sharing the towing across the 3 bikes.
The additional benefit though is that we now have the perfect piece of equipment to carry our regular and often large Brocante Market purchases whilst we’re in France!
Q7. Do you need a day off?
The simple one word answer to this is YES!
The boys were certainly on a mission & to ride the distance they did, carrying their equipment, during a heatwave (40 degrees) in less than 2 weeks is pretty impressive ……… But I’m the wife & mum so I’m bound to say that!
They had always planned to take rest days at the appropriate times & had been flexible in not setting an arrival date to allow them to do so. They knew they would stop at La Rochelle (a great place to stay) and visit some of the old haunts from childhood holidays, but beyond that they hadn’t planned anything else, rather playing it by ear.
As it was they got to La Rochelle much quicker than they thought they would and had a fantastic 36 hours (helped by the Red Bull Cliff Diving) – it was actually easier to book a hotel than we first thought thanks to online sites like http://www.booking.com and so leaving it until the last minute wasn’t a problem.
As it was they really needed the day off & sat for a good while just watching the fish at the Aquarium (apparently that was about all their fatigued brains could deal with!). The rest was just enough to help them on their way again.
The rest of the ride then just collapsed really quickly & by the time they felt they could do with another break the end was too close and they just wanted to cross the finish line!
Q8. Would you do it again?
If you had asked this in the first couple of days after finishing I think the answer would probably have been no ……… But this would have been the fatigue talking, rather than a thought-through decision.
One week on the conversation has already changed to ‘If we did it again……..’
The answer is they don’t know – but what they do know is that they cycled from the top to the bottom of France, had a fantastic adventure together and that cycling is in their blood.
Andy knows that he is so lucky to have had the opportunity to have such an adventure with our 2 teenage boys and I know it’s something they will all talk about for a long time to come.
And for now the cycling continues -cycling some of the more stunning rides around The Vaucluse & keeping the pedals turning as they start plotting next year’s adventure!