Bristol (UK) to Seattle (USA)

Travel, final preparation & sightseeing ahead of the Grand Depart.

The adventure began when Barry The Taxi picked us up from Fishponds at 9am on Monday 25th April. First stop was the Heathrow Hilton Garden Inn at T2 / T3, prior to taking our PCR tests in the afternoon. We received our negative results at 6pm & then completed the final paperwork & checked in online prior to relaxing with dinner & a couple of drinks.

After a light breakfast, we popped our boxed bikes & suitcases onto a trolley & walked them across to check-in at T3, where we were looked after by the Virgin Atlantic team – our bikes were too big to fit through the normal queueing system, so we were taken to the express team where we were fast-tracked through check-in process. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the airport, we’d completed check-in, dropped off our oversized bikes & were clearing security & chilling out as we waited for our gate to be called.

We were flying Premium Economy, so were greeted with champagne as we took our seats for the flight. We took off on time at 11.50am & this felt like the real start point of our adventure.

A mere 10 hours later (after 3 films & a lot of feeding & watering by our cabin crew) we were wheels-down at Seattle-Tacoma. It took about an hour to get through immigration, baggage collection & customs. After a 40 minute taxi ride, we were registered in the Holiday Inn Downtown, our hotel for the next 4 nights. Seattle is 8 hours behind the UK, so our body-clock believed it was 1am on Wednesday morning, but our watches told us it was 3pm on Tuesday, so we quickly unpacked & got out for some sightseeing & a couple of celebratory beers (by the time we returned to the hotel at 9.30pm, we’d had 6 pints, but we slept well & avoided any jetlag!).

We enjoyed a big breakfast on Wednesday morning, before heading up to the Space Needle to get the sightseeing underway. Sean & I both struggle with heights, but sometimes you just have to face your fear & go outside your comfort zone. I’ve a feeling we’ll be doing a lot of this over the coming months!

We had our first experience of the vast number of sculptures in the city as we walked through Olympic Park, a stand-alone part of the Seattle Art Museum. Although the temperatures are very much like spring in Bristol, we’ve been really fortunate that the weather has stayed dry while we’ve been out & it’s been sunny most of the time.

The Seattle Art Museum itself has a great piece of live action installation art – a huge man swinging a hammer! I’ve probably not done it justice with the video below, but you’ll get the idea of what I mean.

Some of my longer standing bank colleagues may remember taking a course titled ‘Fish!’ – it featured a company based in Pike Place Market who sold fish to the general public. I’m delighted to report they’re still up to their fish throwing antics – this is a PLAICE well worth a visit!!

The whole waterfront area from the State Ferry Terminal (where our adventure will start with a boat crossing to Bainbridge Island) to Pike Place has some big views across the bay. I stopped briefly to get a couple of photos of all the people queueing outside the very first Starbucks, as well as looking at some of the colourful fruit & veg stalls.

At various moments over the last few days, the Space Needle has popped into view – if ever you visit Seattle, it’s well worth making time to visit the park around the Space Needle & take the lift to the top. As you queue for the lift, take time to learn all about how & why the Space Needle & adjacent monorail was built.

In addition to sightseeing, we’ve also run around town picking up a few last minute items ahead of the adventure starting. This took us to some places that we wouldn’t have thought to visit normally, We passed the Public Library, walked down to Lumen Field (home of the Seattle Seahawks football team & Seattle Sounders soccer team) & spotted a dining cart that had been converted into a banana stand!

We’ve walked in the region of 7 or 8 miles a day, so food & drink has been an important part of our planning! I’ve enjoyed trying a few craft IPA’s like Space Needle & Pine Place, while Sean’s been testing out some of the red ales.

We’ve been fortunate to have a small, greenspace just across the road from us – we’ve seen squirrels galore in there, as well as a couple of rabbits. In addition to the wildlife, the park has been planted with striking flowers, as well as being a quiet space with a large chess set, Jenga & Connect 4 are available too.

This morning we packed our panniers with all the kit we plan to use over the next 6 months – a few of my observant friends may have noticed that all our photos show us in the same shirts. That’s because we’ve been wearing the same set of clothes since we started our travelling on Monday morning – we’re both now looking forward to throwing them away tomorrow morning!!

Our bikes were dismantled by 73 Degrees in Keynsham 10 days ago & MBR Bikes of Seattle have done a great job rebuilding the bikes for us – we put the bikes through their paces yesterday on a short shakedown ride to South Lake Union. The big adventure begins in earnest tomorrow, as we head towards Port Townsend – by the end of the day we’ll be even further West than we are at the moment!

From Sardinia to the USA (Part Three)

Once In A Lifetime (remastered) – revisiting some of our favourite places, but finding new routes to explore. Part Three also includes trips in the UK as we prepared for our USA adventure. The following lines summarise some of the questions I’ve asked myself at various times on my cycling adventures to date;

You may ask yourself “Where does that highway go to?”

And you may ask yourself “Am I right? Am I wrong?”

And you may say to yourself “My God! What have I done?”

The final chapter of my journey from clueless cyclist to American Adventurer focuses on my later trips to Europe, as well as my self-supported UK trips during Covid times.

As well as our annual Spring trip to Mallorca in 2016, we returned to Switzerland in the summer. This time we based ourselves in Martigny & explored the quiet roads up to the numerous hydro-electric dams in the Swiss Alps.

Mallorca again kicked off my 2017 adventures, followed by a first summer foray into the Italian Dolomites. The mountains are unlike anywhere else I’ve visited, with enormous grey crags & alpine lakes in every direction – I really struggled to limit myself to just a few photos from our week in Cortina d’Ampezzo!

We also managed to fit in a week of late summer riding in the French Pyrenees – we were based in Lourdes for our first visit. The mountains were steeper, more remote & wilder than their Alpine cousins! This is somewhere we want to explore further in the future.

Our 2018 adventures kicked off again with a Spring break to Mallorca, however, I had a low speed crash on the first day which resulted in me spending the remainder of the trip sun bathing (which rather ruined my sharp tan lines!), instead of cycling.

My Mallorcan injury kept me off the bike throughout May & early June, so I had a few concerns about my cycling fitness ahead of our 11 day summer trip to Lake Annecy & St Jean de Maurienne. Our luxurious base in Talloires was the perfect launchpad for 5 days exploring quiet mountain passes as I built up some fitness for the huge climbs to come. Hopefully the photos below will show why I love visiting the big mountains – they also show my left elbow being held together with kinesiotape from my crash in April.

The transfer to St Jean de Maurienne took less than 2 hours so we were able to fit in an extra ride on our transfer day up to the ski station of Karellis. This was one of a few lesser known climbs we explored, others included Les Lacets de Montvernier / Col du Pre & Col de la Beaune. We also returned to Col de la Madeleine & Col de la Croix de Fer, regular guests on the Tour de France & favourites of ours.

I went to Ibiza in September for Stevie W’s birthday & managed to hire a bike & sneak in a day of riding – this is another place well worth returning to for further exploration. I also won a competition to spend a day in the Neutral Service Car at the OVO Energy Tour of Britain, which helped me appreciate the difference between cycling athletes & novices like myself!

We returned to Mallorca in 2019. I managed to stay in my bike for the whole trip & we enjoyed visiting a few well known climbs, as well as getting off the beaten track – sadly I haven’t been back since this trip, but I’m looking forward to getting back in 2023.

Our summer adventure took us to Austria for the first time, with 5 days of riding the remote mountains around Innsbruck. Each day offered a different experience, as we mixed routes that looped over the mountains with valley riding along the way, with high mountain roads up to glaciers. While the climbs were challenging, pretty much every day we had the roads pretty much to ourselves.

We then crossed the border into Italy as we returned to Bormio for a further 5 days of adventures in the huge mountains . In addition to the legendary climbs made famous by the Giro d’Italia, we also found a few unknown climbs well off the beaten track.

It appears I must have used all my 2019 holiday allowance on cycling trips, as we also returned to Barcelonnette in September for a week of cycling! Again, we had the roads to ourselves as we combined some Tour de France favourites like the Col de Vars & Col de la Bonette, unknown climbs like Col des Fillys & Col St Jean & an away day to tackle the wickedly steep Col de la Lombarde from both the Italian & French sides.

The world changed in 2020 & foreign travel was off the agenda & the early months of the year involved lots of solo rides to comply with Government Lockdowns & Guidance. Luckily by July we were able to meet up again & although we couldn’t get away to Europe as planned we still managed to do plenty of day trips in July.

Week one saw us exploring the North Wessex Downs, the Cotswolds, the Mendips, the Malverns, Cranborne Area of Natural Beauty & the South Downs. This was a great reminder that there are plenty of places within an hour’s drive that are well worth exploring!

Week Two involved more trips to explore new tarmac. We began with a Tour of the Cotswolds around Bourton-on-the-Water, followed it up with Tour of The Tumble in South Wales, headed out to horse country on a Lambourn Loop, returned to the Cotswolds to explore all around Chipping Norton & then finished with a trip out to Symonds Yat. A glorious couple of weeks that showed there is plenty of scenery to see in the UK.

By the end of 2020 I’d had an application for redundancy agreed at work & had decided that I was going to use it as an opportunity to take on a challenge I’d been thinking of for a few years – riding coast to coast across the USA. Fortunately, this adventure also appealed to Sean, so we started making plans to turn it into reality.

I bought a new touring bike in January 2021 & started training on it in May. I started loading up the panniers to prepare me for what a trip on a touring bike might be like. However, the only way to truly know is go on a tour & find out! In July 2021 Sean & myself embarked on a 5 day Tour de South Wales, taking in Brecon, the Elan Valley, Aberystwyth & Carmarthen via National Cycle Routes 8 & 42. We then returned to Bristol via NCR’s 82, 47 & 4. The scenery was stunning & we were fortunate with the weather – we enjoyed ourselves so much!

We gambled on having an Indian Summer in September & planned a 2nd Tour de South Wales – this time we’d be going in a clockwise direction, following NCR 4 via Pontypridd & Carmarthen, then returning via NCR’s 47 & 43. We were loaded with 20kg of kit which gave us a really good taste of what touring in the USA might feel like. Once again, the scenery was amazing!

As I write this, we’re waiting for our “Fit To Fly” results, sat in the Hilton Garden Inn -we’ve completed 4,500 training miles on our touring bikes & thoroughly enjoyed 2 separate tours to South Wales. The waiting is finally over & technically, the adventure has begun – we fly to Seattle tomorrow (26th April) to start our Tour de USA!!!

From Sardinia to the USA (Part Two)

Road To Nowhere – sticking with the Talking Heads theme as we broadened our European horizons! Many of our trips from 2011 to 2016 really did take us on roads less travelled – taking that ride to nowhere, we’ll take that ride.

In May 2011 we stayed in Geneva for 4 days, cycling the big mountains either side of the Arve valley, including the brutal climb of Col de Joux Plane on the way up to Morzine. We also visited Goeschenen that September for another 4 day trip – the Susten, Grimsel & Furka Pass (made famous by Goldfinger) remains one of my 5 favourite days in the saddle!

2012 started with a week-long stay in Barcelonnette, including a day trip to Mont Ventoux for the first time – more about this mythical mountain later! The highlight of our 2012 stay in Annecy was going to see Stage 9 of Le Tour de France & seeing Wiggo riding to victory on the stage while wearing yellow – this was the year he won Le Tour! The lowlight was undoubtedly crashing on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend 3 days later, breaking my collarbone, ending my riding early & writing-off my Trek.

2013 started off (& finished) with surgery on my collarbone – it was unsuccessful both times & I’m left with a mushy collarbone that never really healed properly.  By now, we’d been gripped by the European Alps & we embarked on a monster 2 week trip at the end of May – snow everywhere!! The first 7 days were spent riding the truly epic climbs of the Maurienne Valley – we stayed in the Hotel St Georges & made friends with the hostess Martine (we’ve visited twice more since).

For the 2nd week we moved to Le Belvedere on the Petit St Bernard Pass, overlooking Bourg St Maurice. We had the Cormet de Roselend, the Col d’Iseran, Petit St Bernard & Les Arcs on our doorstep. By the end of our 2 week adventure, we’d completed just over 100,000 feet of vertical climbing (about a 1/5th of that year’s total)!!

Somehow we also found time for a trip to Andermatt where we spent 7 days exploring the huge mountains, including the legendary cobbles on the Gotthardpass.

In 2014 we climbed all 3 sides of Mont Ventoux in a single day (14,452 feet of climbing in 85 miles) on our summer trip to Bedoin & St Jean de Maurienne (again) – we’re in a fairly small club of people foolish enough to complete the Cingles Challenge! This remains my biggest challenge to date. We also found time to visit Col d’Izoard & Col du Galibier.

We also visited Italy for the first time in 2014, with a week long adventure in Bormio. Our trip included an epic day climbing both sides of the Stelvio, with the Umbrail pass sandwiched in between. We also got off the beaten track with a bit of gravel riding around Lago di Cancano.

We made our maiden trip to Mallorca in 2015 (Puerto Pollenca was our regular base until Covid arrived in 2020). This quickly felt like a 2nd home & we used it as a Spring Training Camp between 2015 & 2019 – it really is cycling nirvana!

For the summer of 2015 we embarked on another split base trip, returning to Annecy for 4 days, then heading to Aosta, for 7 days cycling in Italy. Colle del Nivolet (the final photo below) remains one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve visited on a bike – this photo (minus me) has pride of place in my living room.

You may recognise the Colle del Nivolet photo from the closing scene in The Italian Job – it was where the coach with the gold was hanging over the cliff. As far as roads to nowhere go, this is that road!

In Part Three I’ll bring the story up to date as our adventures from 2017 to 2021 prepare us for our expedition to The Big Country (yes, another Talking Heads song!).

From Sardinia to the USA (Part One)

Once In A Lifetime – To steal a line from the Talking Heads’ song, “Well, how did I get here?”

My USA cycling adventure has been almost 16 years in the making – Part One of my journey covers my introduction to cycling & a few of my first adventures.

Back in June 2006 I went on a group holiday to Sardinia with some great friends & on a whim hired a bike for a ½ day, 30 mile pootle out to Capo Caccia & back with Sean.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d catch the cycling bug & that I’d now be preparing to embark on a 6,000 mile, 6 month, once in a lifetime adventure. So, how did I get here?

After returning from Sardinia, Sean & I came up with the stupid idea of going on a one week cycling trip around Hamburg in October 2006 – in those days I didn’t even take photos of my cycling adventures, as my mobile phone didn’t even have a camera. We arrived on the Friday night & spent the evening checking out the local brew – my hazy memory says it was “one (or perhaps two) too many” pints of Einstein, in the bar of the same name. It’s worth pointing out that at this point we didn’t have any bikes to complete our tour, so we had a panicked morning desperately searching for a hire shop – in the end we had to buy a bike each so we could complete our trip!!! We learned a huge amount on that trip, the main lesson being that we needed to each buy a bike!

By 2007 I’d bought a blue, aluminium framed Giant Defy & we headed to the USA, doing a self-supported trip to New York State (including a visit to Niagara Falls). By now I’d realised that I needed to be able to take photos, so we bought a couple of Kodak Single Use cameras – we then had to get the film developed in a camera shop to see what the photos actually looked like! Having found the photos this evening, they were truly rubbish!!!

In 2008 we visited Washington & Oregon cycling the Pacific Coast Highway, hiring bikes once again. We still had much to learn about how to plan a trip abroad! At least by now we’d realised the importance of training, although I weighed more in 2008 than I do in 2022.

We became more adventurous in 2009, joining a guided tour in early May, organised by Cycling Escapes, that included Zion & Bryce Canyon – this was our first experience of cycling with proper cyclists.

I was totally unprepared (I’d broken my collar bone on Valentine’s Day & couldn’t get back on the bike until the end of March) & I met the most kind & generous group of people. They were so supportive of two total novices & shared many great pieces of advice, including to always look behind you & see where you’ve come from, as well as where you’re headed. For our 2nd week we did a self-supported trip to Moab & tried to practice what we’d been taught!

2010 was a breakout year, as in addition to buying my first carbon bike (still the fastest bike I’ve ever owned), we started training & returned to the USA for a 5 days of cycling huge Colorado mountains – again with Cycling Escapes. Rich & Benny ran the trip even though there were only Sean, myself & Rich on the tour.

This was followed by 5 days of cycling in Montana & Idaho (including a couple of days in Yellowstone) – we were still with Cycling Escapes. What made it even more special was meeting up with some of our friends we’d made the previous year, as well as making new friends.

We also paid our first visit to the big mountains of Europe – driving from Bristol to Bourg d’Oisans for a 3 day adventure taking in Alp d’Huez, Col de la Croix de Fer & Col du Galibier on consecutive days. I can still remember the feeling of complete awe I felt when we drove up Alp d’Huez in the car & both of us realising that we were in completely uncharted territory!

This feels like a good place to draw Part One to a conclusion as it marks the transition from our long haul travels to short haul destinations. Part Two will focus on our early experiences of exploring the mountains of Europe!

Tour de Suisse Summits – Lac Champex & Val Ferret – July 2016

Secret Climbs, Hidden Summits – Day Seven

We were back to riding straight out the hotel door again today – always a bonus, as I get an extra 30 minutes lie-in! The early miles required another trip across town & a visit to the fast & heavily trafficked Grand St Bernard Pass, however after 25 minutes we reached our turn-off.

The plan today was to explore a couple of ‘secret’ climbs – first up (literally!) was Lac Champex. The early stages of the climb had steep hairpin after steep hairpin, where you could look out across the St Bernard valley. As we climbed higher, we entered a silver birch & pine tree forest, with a strong smell of resin – similar to a newly cut Christmas Tree smell. I don’t think the climb was as difficult as it felt, it was more a case of having legs that are beginning to rebel against a daily diet of adventurous riding!

We reached Lac Champex after just over 2 hours of riding which saw us climb 3,200 feet in 12 miles – time for a coffee stop & some blackcurrent flan that was out of this world! The lake has some stunning views across to the snow-peak covered mountains, where paragliders were doing their thing on the thermals. To add to the occasion, there was a festival of some sort taking place with traditional Swiss dancing taking place. I would have happily whiled away the day here, supping the occasional beer, however, we had things to do & places to see!

It was time to give all those hard-earned feet back & descend the opposite side of the mountain, towards the St Bernard valley again. The road plummeted towards the valley below in a series of hairpins & blind corners, so it provided plenty of opportunities to stop & admire the view – no high speed descents today!

Once on the valley floor, it was time to explore ‘secret’ climb number two – we took a right turn & set off towards La Fouly in the Val Ferret, on another quiet & picturesque road. When I mapped this out, the average gradient for the 7 mile climb was only about 7%, so nothing too severe compared to what we’d already experienced. However, there were lots of fairly flat sections, meaning there were also lots of 9% & 10% sections too & my legs were finally telling me they were……on their last legs! Each day my heart rate has dropped during a climb, we’ve had to adapt our climbing as we’ve become more tired. I usually expect to ascend at about 150 beats per minute, by today this was down to 130 – as soon as I tried to raise my heart rate, my legs refused to co-operate!! Knowing this would happen ensured that I rode well within myself as we continued to climb up a beautiful glacial valley, with yet more paragliders enjoying themselves overhead.

At La Fouly it was time for a final rest stop & an opportunity to marvel at some real athletes – the Verbier / St Bernard X-Alpine race was taking place & the competitors had to run / walk / crawl 68 miles with over 27,600 feet of climbing (& descending). La Fouly was 40km into the race & we saw competitors passing through the feed station during our coffee stop – what incredible athletes!

We had a much simpler challenge ahead of us, the 12 mile descent back to Sembrancher, where we joined the St Bernard Pass again. There was just time to stop & get in some Hay Bale Surfing action – I can’t believe how inflexible I appear in the photo!

Once the high jinks were completed, there was a final sting in the tail as the wind had changed direction & was now blowing us back up the mountain. Sean pointed out he was a skinny mountain goat, so it was my duty as the Domestique to get him back to the hotel in relative comfort – what could I say? I gave it an Eyeballs Out, Full Gas effort into the wind & thoroughly enjoyed the final miles of what has been another awesome Alpine Adventure! I stopped just long enough to take a final couple of photos which summed up Martigny – the Tour de France & stylish art on the roundabouts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed following my progress & as the sun sets on this adventure, I’m already looking forward to doing it all again somewhere new next year.

Tour de Suisse Summits – Mattmarksee & Zermatt – July 2016

A trip to The Matterhorn – Day Six

Up until today, every ride has started right outside the hotel’s front door. However, today we had a 50 mile drive to Visp (which is located 50 miles further up the Rhone valley). The plan today was to explore two valleys that share the same access from the valley floor. The first 5 miles to Stalden was on a very busy main road, but as soon as we crossed the River Vispa (the gateway to Zermatt) we had the tarmac pretty much to ourselves with the occasional interruption from a bus or construction lorry. As we followed the course of the Saaservispa river, we steadily gained height & found ourselves looking back down towards Visp, way off in the background.

The first 15 miles were among the easiest we’ve ridden all week – a very welcome rest for the weary legs, as well as providing plenty of ‘action’ photo opportunities. We stopped for a quick coffee at Saas-Balen, before continuing on our way in high spirits.

We were so busy chatting, we missed our turn – not only did we miss the turn, we didn’t even realise until we’d reached the top of an unexpected climb into Saas-Fee. It’s a lovely pedestrianised town that I would have enjoyed exploring if only it was where we planned to visit!! We re-traced our steps having taken the correct turning, spent the next 6 miles heading up an ever steepening road, until the final ½ mile straight stretch hit 14% – a real leg stinger after 5 days of hard riding!!

We’d reached Mattmarksee – a climb of just over 5,000 feet (including our detour!) in 25 miles.

After another lunch of Spag Bol we set off back towards Stalden – remember that steep last ½ mile I mentioned above? By the time I took that first corner I’d already hit 51.3 mph & braked to safely negotiate the corner…a stunningly fast piece of road! It took about 35 minutes to descend the 15 miles back to Stalden – this completed part one of our adventure.

For part two, we headed up the Vispa valley towards Tasch (& ultimately Zermatt, at the base of the Matterhorn). It was 3.30pm when we started this section, so didn’t have any great expectations of exploring very far, however, we followed the course of the river, meaning the gradients were always very friendly to us. The Gotthard / Matterhorn Railway also runs through the valley – I recognised the trains from a previous trip to Andermatt. The track hugs the river, with towering cliffs on either side.

At one point, there wasn’t space for river, train track & modern width road, so a new 2.4km road tunnel had been built. The good news for pedestrians & cyclists is that the narrow, old road is reserved exclusively for their use – it would have been a bit of a slog cycling uphill in the tunnel, especially with vans & lorries whizzing through too.

Due to the friendly nature of the route, we managed to get all the way out to Tasch, where we stopped for a quick ice cream (size XXL) & coffee, while watching Roger Federer lose the 4th set in his match against Milos Raonic.

By now it was about 5.30pm, so time to do an about face & head back to Visp. The journey back to the car took a little over 40 minutes – it’s been another thoroughly enjoyable & fun day in the saddle, under glorious blue skies. I think I may even have a small bit of sunburn on my bald patch!! It’s now time to get some rest before the final day of Alpine Adventures tomorrow.

Tour de Suisse Summits – Tour de France Stage 17 – July 2016

Col de la Forclaz & Col de la Guelaz – Day Five

The Queen Stage of the Swiss Alpine Adventures trip – the final two climbs from Stage 17 of the Tour de France 2016 (Col de la Forclaz & Col de la Gueulaz up to Lac d’Emosson). This is likely to be a pivotal stage in this year’s Le Tour & the big names of Froome, Contador, Aru, Quintana, Van Garderen & Porte are expected to duke it out for overall victory.

Le Tour will be heading up the St Bernard Pass for about a mile, before taking a right turn up the old road to Col de la Forclaz. We followed this route too & the early slopes took us past vineyards & through small villages – the first surprise was that the gradient was significantly steeper than we expected, as it regularly popped over 12%. The views over Martigny & the Rhone valley below became more spectacular & by the time we joined the new road we’d climbed over 1,000 feet in just under 25 minutes.

The new road has a very consistent 7.5% to 8% gradient all the way from Martigny up to the summit at Col de la Forclaz (narrow gap in French), as it twists & turns up the side of the mountain. A stunning climb that offers huge views from the café at the summit. Although this is the main road between Martigny (in Switzerland) & Chamonix (in France), the traffic today was relatively light, allowing us to enjoy the 4 mile descent to Trient – this included a tunnel that had motion activated lights that came on as we cycled through it!

A right turn onto the D1506 took us over a bridge to the opposite side of the valley & this marked the start of the 7.5 mile climb up to Col de la Gueulaz. The early slopes took us through the quaint village of Finault, which has already started decorating the streets with Le Tour bunting. The region is famous as dinosaur footprints have been found high in the mountains, which helped explain why the village had decked out a dinosaur in a ‘King of The Mountains’ polka dot jersey!!!

The climb started in earnest from this point on – 4 miles where the gradient averages between 9% & 10% the entire way. Thank goodness there were some amazing views over to the Trient Glacier & towards Mont Blanc to take my mind off the gradient. As we approached the summit, the final 1km was having the tarmac re-laid for Le Tour. It’s was stunning & challenging in equal measures, so I can’t wait to see the TV coverage & watch the pros as they bid for glory!!

Just beyond (& below) the summit of the Col is…..a Hydro Electric Dam! The original dam was completed in 1925 & some clever engineering resulted in the new Barrage d’Emosson going into service & flooding the old dam in 1973, to a height of 180 metres. For the brave of heart it’s possible to take a funicular railway from the valley floor – at 87% (yes, 87%!), it’s the steepest two cabin funicular in the world. I thought cable cars were scary until I saw this!!!

Unfortunately there was construction work taking place, so we weren’t allowed to cycle across the dam & as a result, my photo opportunities were limited. This is a stunningly beautiful location, with enormous views across to the Trient Glacier & Mont Blanc in one direction & the Rhone valley way off in the other direction. To get here, we’d already ridden 22 miles & climbed 6,750 feet, so decided that spaghetti bolognaise was in order – tasty & instant energy as all cyclists know!

The descent seemed to be over in no time – that’s the thing with a steep climb, you get the benefit on the way back down. We needed to keep our wits about us, as there were huge trucks & buses coming up the mountain, so it wasn’t a time to be too adventurous. We overtook a couple of riders on the way down, who had set off just as I was taking some photos – they added to the shot, so thank you, whoever you are!

The final climb of the day was the reverse side of the Col de la Forclaz, a tiddler at 4.5 miles that was by far the kindest climb of the day. After a quick espresso to sharpen the senses, it was time to descend the new tarmac back to Martigny – this felt like a fast road on the way up (very few bends & huge views down the mountain) & so it proved to be. I was so busy concentrating that I didn’t check my speeds until I uploaded the ride this evening – I hit a top speed of 48.6mph, but it never felt like I was travelling that quickly.

When I first planned today’s ride, it was all about riding part of the Queen Stage. However, by today it was all about experiencing another glorious day in the Valais – once again we had beautiful blue skies all day, benign conditions & stunning vistas in every direction.

Tour de Suisse Summits – Barrage du Mauvoisin – July 2016

Dam Busting Stage 2 – Day Four

Another Epic day in the saddle up to Barrage du Mauvoisin – another hydro-electric dam, however, today the road was either climbing or descending (so no flat miles to pad out the distance) once we left town. In addition to the main climb of the day (4,850 feet of climbing in 25 miles), I’d also identified a couple of bonus climbs in case our legs felt strong….

The first 12 miles followed Sunday’s route to Le Chable, at which point we turned off the main roads & headed towards the snow covered mountains way off in the distance. The views continued to get ever more impressive as we climbed higher & deeper into the mountains – physically as well as metaphorically, as we passed through a couple of tunnels! For the first time this trip we got to see a marmot, rather than just hear them squeaking as we approached.

We made a quick stop for Tarte Tartin with ice cream & a cappuccino in the middle of nowhere, before the final push.

As we rounded the very next corner after our stop we saw our target for the day – the Barrage du Mauvoisin, as it towered 250 metres above us! It’s the 11th tallest dam in the world, took 6 years to build & spans 520 metres from side to side.

After taking in the majesty of the dam, lake & surrounding area (Mont Blanc was visible in the distance), we descended back towards Lourtier, taking in a cliff road detour on the way to view the valley below.

We still felt good, so took the decision to climb a back road (including a 3km gravel section along the summit balcony) towards Verbier. The climb was always ‘comfortable’ & as we gained height the views widened until we again got to see paragliders as they soared on the thermals above us.

We took the same descent as on Sunday until Le Chable, where we stopped for lunch. Our legs still weren’t totally cooked (although well on their way!), so we threw in yet another bonus climb – the Col des Planches. This was on a deserted road that took us high above the main road we cycled this morning, with stunning views towards Col de Grand Saint Bernard in one direction & Mont Blanc in the other. The climb ascended 2,100 feet in 5 miles, so averaged about 8%, but with a couple of short stretches up over 13%.

As we started the descent towards Martigny this was all forgotten, as incredible views up & down the Rhone valley showed themselves.

We popped into town to celebrate another awesome day in the saddle & to take in some of the Tour de France reminders & to top up the calories ahead of tomorrow’s adventure!

Tour de Suisse Summits – Barrage de la Grande Dixence – July 2016

Dam Busting – Day Three

Today’s adventure was a monster climb up to the world’s fifth tallest dam (it was 2nd tallest until 2010), the Barrage de la Grande Dixence.

The day started in a similar fashion to yesterday, the first 20 miles or so followed the River Rhone through fruit orchards (apples, pears & apricots to name a few), vineyards & fields of vegetables. For once I had a bit of a nightmare getting us to the start of the climb, but luckily we were still in high spirits, so it didn’t matter, plus it added to the adventure!

The early part of the climb is on a relatively busy road, but this only affected us for the first four miles until we reached our coffee stop of Vex. After an invigorating slice of apricot tart & a cappuccino, we turned onto an almost deserted road, as we continued to climb towards Dixence – everything was hunky dory, my training had prepared me for just this sort of challenge…..

At which point we turned a corner & there some 5 miles in the distance was the Barrage de la Grande Dixence & it was still several thousand feet above us! I can only assume that the engineers that planned & built the road were sadists, as the gradient never dipped below 10% from this point on & the majority of it was between 11% & 13% – my training hadn’t prepared me for this.

It was even more challenging than the hardest bit of the Sanetsch yesterday, so it was time to look in the suitcase of courage – sadly I’d only packed a rucksack of despair!! After a quick energy bar it was time to man-up & get on with it & a mere hour of pain later we’d reached the car park at the foot of the dam.

A few statistics for you;

At 285 metres, the Barrage is 9 metres higher than the top platform of the Eiffel Tower.

The dam took 14 years to complete & was finished in 1964.

This is part of the Cleuson-Dixence complex, which provides hydro-electric power to 400,000 Swiss households per year.

At peak capacity the reservoir can hold 400 million cubic metres of water.

The top part of the descent required total concentration, as the steep road we’d previously climbed now dropped in a series of tight hairpins & the price of getting it wrong was too severe to consider. Once we’d negotiated this tricky start, the remainder of the descent back into Vex was easy. After a quick baguette for lunch we continued to descend on a fast, open road back to Sion – look away now if you’re family…. I maxed out at 45 mph as you got such a great view of what lay ahead, which included a posse of horse riders crossing the road!

From Sion, we reversed the route along the cycle path into a tough head/side wind, but we made really good time as it was also very slightly downhill. All in all, another day that was fully worthy of being called an Alpine Adventure & deserved to be celebrated in style with a slap up meal in town!!

Tour de Suisse Summits – July 2016

Lac de Sanetsch, Col de Pillon & Col de la Croix – Day Two.

An EPIC day in the saddle – this is one of my favourite five rides & one of the hardest. The numbers by themselves don’t tell even a part of the story – 75 miles with 9,750 feet of climbing. Once again the weather gods smiled on us, as we were greeted with blue skies & light breezes as we set off on the day’s adventure. The Tour de France is visiting Martigny for a couple of stages this year, so there are reminders all over town.

The majority of first 15 miles were on a cycle path that hugged the edge of the River Rhone – the valley is glacial in origin, so there’s agriculture all along the valley floor & on the lower slopes. Helicopters buzzed overhead throughout these early miles, as they sprayed the crops – amazingly we rode past just as one was refuelling & preparing to take off. This gentle introduction finished after about an hour of leisurely riding – the day’s main event was a climb up to Lac de Sanetsch, one of many hydro-electric dams in the Valais region.

This was a brute of a climb – 16 miles long with 6,200 feet of ascent. The views back down to the valley floor helped to take away some of the pain, as did the fact that we were riding a road that ‘dead-ended’ at the summit. As a result the road was pretty much deserted.

There was a 4 mile stretch where the gradient didn’t drop below 10% & at one point my Garmin was showing a 17% incline – no amount of training in the UK fully prepares you for these kind of climbs, so I chose to admire the views & tried not to look at the slope!!! We needed a couple of espresso stops, so we could keep our water bottles topped up – the temperature was now in the 80’s, so staying hydrated was essential.

As the steep stuff relented, we rounded a corner to meet our next challenge – a ½ mile tunnel with fairly basic lighting. If I’m honest, these are the sort of things I love being confronted with on my trips – if I wanted a simple pootle on a cycle path, I could go to Bath & back!

Finally after just over 3 hours of climbing, we reached the summit, before dropping down a couple of hundred feet to the lake. Time for lunch & mushroom risotto looked like a great choice……well actually it was the only choice! Two main courses & two cokes set us back an eye-watering £45.

You may remember me saying the road runs out at the lake, yet we did a loop – how so, I hear you ask. By taking a cable car down to Gsteig on the other side – this gains in significance when I share the fact that Sean hates heights. In spite of this fear, he still got in the cable car & lay on the floor so he didn’t have to look out at the 2,000 foot shear drop!!!

From here, it was a straightforward climb up the Col de Pillon, before descending to Les Diablerets.

This was decision time, continue the descent back to the valley floor, or take a detour & add in the climb of Col de la Croix. Foolishly we chose the detour, as I’m sure you knew I would!!

Another brutal climb, rising just over 2,000 feet in a little over 5 miles. It was a steady 8% all the way & a real struggle after all the steep climbing we’d already completed. However, there were stunning views once again to distract me from the pain.

Once we summited, we were rewarded with a glorious descent, as the road twisted in & out of tiny towns & villages on its way back to the Rhone valley. All that remained from there was a 15 mile ride home along as we headed up the Rhone valley once again.