Sunday, 16 October 2016

P-P-Park Run

Should have been doing some of this myself. The girls above are Jackie and SJ, not my girls (who'd have guessed?)
Doom and gloom took up way too much room in my headspace this week. Just couldn't get myself to feel right mentally and as a direct consequence, I started to feel physically drained to. Paralysis of will, minimal motivation and 'whatever-it-was' messed with my head big time. I had plans but just couldn't put them into motion. I wanted to go camping but despite being excited about the prospect wasn't brave enough to go for a wild solo trip. Friends of mine were interested in camping too but were either ill, partying or otherwise engaged. A solo camp is definitely on my bucket list. I wanted to run but couldn't find my legs (what sort of an excuse is that?)! I wanted to cycle but my lack of sleep was making the effort way too hard each morning to even look at my bike. No exercise or training took place at all on any of the week days. 
Hanbury Park Run (5k)
Once the weekend came, I changed my game plan and felt a trifle better. Maybe having a work free weekend helped?! I decided to go for a Park Run! This Park Run was different to my previous 7 runs. This run was different simply because I chose a different venue. Instead of running around Arrow Valley, I chose to run Hanbury Park Run. This was an altogether different run - way less congested and off-road. I preferred this run and despite having a relatively slow time (25:47), it was still a PB, indeed my Hanbury PB! The social element was still here and I chatted some with a guy called Paul. Hayley from tri-club was also here, both running and marshalling, so it was great to see her and give her a high five. Felt great to run after a short lapse, even if it was only 5k and my shoes got covered in sheep poo. 
My beautiful Melody
Further adventure was had after my Park Run. My girls (SJ, Lunar and Melody) had a mini adventure at the Lickey Hills. Despite us not going long or far, we scrambled a little through the woods and climbed a tad too. Looking back at the photo's, SJ and I are so blessed to have a couple of beautiful little monkeys. 

Wow, a week with no cycling and only one run. I will get my mojo back and cycle some soon! I have booked a place on the Snowdrop Audax next year and am willing to try and get a place in the Rapha Prestige event next month. At least I'm not spending monies on bike bits right now....

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Doom and Gloom / Finding Netherton

Lack of posting for a while because my life went a little topsy-turvy. Gremlins had messed with my head-space. My daughter Lunar told me that aliens had stolen the moon while she was sleeping. Don't panic though, Lunar informed that the aliens have put it back. Life resumes to a relative norm...
The furthest out great adventure I recall since my last post was when I caught up with my buddy Roger. Roger is my blind buddy who owns an old tandem called 'the Beast'. Anyways, we cycled his tandem again on this adventure. Our trip was a trek to a 'new-to-me' café and back. We covered about 60k and ate a real tasty bacon and egg bap.

Shortly after the above adventure, menace happened. I had numerous work related meetings and had to be interviewed for my own job. I was informed on a Friday that I would find out my fate that self-same day. I didn't. The powers that be informed there was an issue.
That issue was not resolved until the beginning of this week. I cycled into work on the Monday with a feeling of doom and left with a feeling of gloom. My job was given to another.

After the above menace, I think it's fair to say my week went a trifle wonky. My headspace became mashed up and everything that was right was wrong again. Argh!
Before the week was out, I figured I'd take my bike out in the hope it made me feel better.  I had wanted to cycle through the Netherton Tunnel for an age now. So, during the end of the week, I went in search of nether Netherton (see what I did there?)!
The 'off-road' start
My trip started from home. My bike of choice for this adventure was my commute bike - a Genesis single-speed cyclo-cross bike. Pretty awesome that my bespoke Alpkit frame bag fitted this machine (as it was made for my Cannondale). I cycled about 22k to reach Stratford where my of-road adventure began.
What a better way to start than being attacked by a big swan and finding a Maccy D's. The swan was real evil hissing at me. The Maccy's was delicious.
I figured I would follow the canal all the way to Netherton, just because I could. I had cycled and ran stretches of the canal network before (but never this much in one go). The canal network stretches for miles and I think further adventure can be sought here. The first real thing worthy of note was Edstone Aqueduct - this is the longest Aqueduct in England!
After about 21k along this canal I came to the first 'cross roads' (that doesn't sound right). At this junction the canal continued to Birmingham by either taking the Grand Union Canal or continuing to Kings Norton. The Grand Union could take one to Oxford or London too, I am led to believe.
On my commute run/cycles into work, I am usually facing the sign (above and below) from a different side. I had never followed the canal from Stratford into Kings Norton before. If one ran from Stratford to Kings Norton along the canal, it would just about be 2 miles short of a marathon!
Before I left the house, I informed Lunar that I was going in search of tunnels. The first tunnel I encountered was the Edgbaston Tunnel. Have ran/cycled through this tunnel many times on my way to work.
Much canal was followed into Birmingham. My next encountered tunnel was heading in the direction of West Bromwich. I think this was the Dalton Tunnel. It could have been Galton or Balton?!
Passed through the tunnel and it wasn't long before I reached Sheepwash. This was another fork or junction. Straight on would have led to Wolverhampton, but turning left would take me to Netherton!
Wonder where the name 'Sheepwash' came from. No sheep here. Ooh, but there was a rather neat looking tunnel straight ahead!
Yes indeed, Netherton Tunnel lay ahead. It looked very dark inside. How exciting!
According to Wikipedia 'Netherton Tunnel was the last canal tunnel to be built in Britain during the Canal Age. The first sod was turned by the Lord Ward on 31 December 1855 and the canal opened on 20 August 1858, providing a waterway connection between the Black Country towns of Netherton and Tipton. It was built to relieve the bottleneck of the adjacent Dudley Tunnel which is very narrow, has alternating blocks of one-way working, and had waiting times of eight hours or more, and sometimes several days.

The Netherton tunnel was built with a width of 27 feet (8.2 m) to allow two-way working of narrowboats; and is brick lined throughout. It has towpaths running through it, one on each side, which enabled horse-drawn narrowboats to be pulled through it. Chainage (distance) markers are still visible on the Eastern wall. The tunnel was fitted, from the start, with gas lighting over the towpaths, though this was later converted to electricity and it is now unlit.

The air vents that run along the line of the tunnel and provide ventilation, and a shaft of light into the canal, are known by the locals as "pepper pots", because of their shape. They are brick-lined and the openings are covered by an iron frame or grill. The wide bore and good ventilation mean that boats using the tunnel today are allowed to use the power of their internal combustion engines, which is prohibited in the narrower Dudley Tunnel.

The tunnel cost £302,000 as opposed to the £238,000 estimate prior to construction. The main reason for the project being overbudget was the extra works necessitated by the condition of the ground through which the tunnel passes'.
Seriously dark. Good job I had bike lights!
A 'pepper pot'
The tunnel was long, dark and far. Water was dripping down in places too. Oh, and in many places and for long stretches, the floor was flooded and un-even.
Woo Hoo! I had found Netherton and cycled through the Netherton Tunnel. All 2,768 metres of it. One day, I will take my kids through here too.
Once through the tunnel, I cycled a little further and studied my maps. I didn't know exactly where I was. I could see Dudley Tunnel was straight ahead. I stopped to ask a random fella for advice. He studied his phone and chatted with for a while but he didn't know where I was on my map either. He suggested I turn *that* way and head to Brierley Hill and check out the waterfront?
I followed the way the chap suggested and came across the above signage which didn't help me know where I was. I got talking to another bloke who quite bizarrely took a picture of me to show his wife?! I figured I'd carry on (especially as it was down hill).
Not sure if the above pic was before or after Merry Hill. I stopped at the waterfront (not waterfall) anyway and had lunch at a 'spoons pub. Delicious. Then, I cycled some more.
I had gotten onto the Staffs & Worcs canal heading for Worcester. Had to stop at Stewpony Lock to take the above pic. Not exactly sure what it was but it appeared to be some sort of whirlpool 'thing'. Very pretty and really quite weird.
Not long before I passed through another tunnel. This was Dunsley Tunnel and hardly a tunnel at all. Still, a tunnel all the same.
Was really kind of nice following towpath. The quality of the track varied big time from tarmac to gravel and at times single-track. Dirty puddles from time to time. A tree root here and there. Frequently uneven. But, it was quiet and peaceful following the canal and the sights were pretty. One day, I'd like to take a bivvy with me and camp out under the stars
The above sign made me smile. Another weird vortex thing (below) was encountered again. Oh, the sights you'd see if only you were cycling with me!
Another tunnel was passed through. Am not sure what this tunnel was called but think it may be Dunsley or Cookley? This was the last tunnel I cycled through on this wonderful adventure.
I left the towpath and canal network at Kidderminster and joined the busy main roads. I wanted to return home and see the wife and kids before it got dark. My route took me to Bromsgrove, then Redditch before taking me back to Doo Little. I cycled about 150k in all, mostly off-road and had a grand old time!

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Weather, man...

This week began with a wet weather run into work. I checked the BBC and Accuweather App's that both confirmed the rain would stay away. They lied! I got drenched on my commute. What ever happened to Michel Fish and John Kettley?!

'John Kettley is a weatherman
a weatherman
a weatherman
John Kettley is a weatherman
and so is Michael Fish'
So pleased that Tuesday was a day away from work. Lunar and I decided to go on an adventure and took inspiration from James' blog. Yup, Lunar and I decided to go for a hot chocolate and marsh mallow adventure!
Our adventure began near Coughton Court, where we parked the car and then set off on foot looking for the 'magic woods'. As we journeyed we passed some pretty cows with 'big big horns and swishy tails'. We spotted lots of animals and creatures including sheep, birds, cricket, daddy long legs, wasp and a fly. After much wildlife spotting we spotted the magic woods (aka Timm's Grove) where I used to venture when training for my Ironman event.

Time stood still for a moment. No doubt these woods were magical. Now that we had reached the woods there was only one thing for it - hot chocolate and marsh mallows!

We found a little place to sit and chilled out a while. This was the first time Lunar was given a hot drink. Despite her saying she liked her hot chocolate, she didn't actually take a sip. Lunar found a steaming drink just a tad bit too weird. She ate enough marsh mallows though!
The trip around the wood was nice. We counted steps, played tunes with sticks, jumped around and found a den. We'll be sure to do this again!

That's if we don't get executed!
After our wood visit we went exploring further (after eating a few wild berries). We went to where there be dragons and crossed many bridges as we went. This was great and new to the both of us. Lunar loved the great outdoors and gave a tree a hug for being so awesome.
We found a house and Lunar insisted she make me some (let's pretend) pancakes. Delicious! Maybe this house would make a great wild camping spot?!
Further exploration resulted in us finding lots of woollen animals - quite bizarre. Lunar called them puppets. Lunar appeared to like puppet finding more fun that creature spotting. As we explored more we found Coughton Court and knew that this adventure had come to an end.

Took a nice cycle commute into work on Wednesday. Had a horrible day at work. Lovely (despite the skies looking grey and miserable) cycle commute home. Two out of three ain't bad!

BBC and Accuweather lied again on Thursday. My alleged sunny ride into work was a wet one! At least the return home was sunny but boy did my chain squeak (the 'dry' lube had clearly been washed away by the earlier rain.

Ran into work on Friday. The run was fine but I had mislaid my TomTom watch which was annoying (and my TomTom test watch was not charged up). I knew the route well, so knew I had ran 10k which took me about an hour.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Life after Nice

As kinda expected, training or exercising decreased a little right after my Torino - Nice rally. The motivation was still (mostly there). Problem was, work got in the way of having fun as so it often it does.

My first run was on Thursday 15/09/16, my second day back at work. How deflated I felt to be back at work despite a relatively nice run. Visibility was real poor as I was running in pea soup. Was surprised the towpath was still closed in places and as a consequence ended up running about a further k (10.8k in all). What was lovely though was all the spider webs that could be seen with the dew present. Not a big fan of spiders but these glorious webs looked awesome. God's creation really is amazing.
First cycle was on the Sunday. I used the same bike on my work and back commute that I used on the Torino - Nice rally. Felt a little different with no added baggage. Brakes were still naff though. Even though I could speed along the towpath on this bike, I missed my cycle bell.

And so ended my first post Nice week.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The 1st Torino - Nice Rally (2016)

Intro: According to the blurb, The 1st Torino - Nice Rally (2016) 'is a bike-packing, touring or randonneur event – a ride that’s a bit of most things... It’s not a race, just a challenge to finish and a question of what to ride and where to focus your efforts.' Well, I cycled a road bike around 500k and climbed numerous cols that required significant effort going up and considerably more effort coming down. Much of my cycling was along rocky gravel-based military strada's along the border often at high altitude. The scenery on route was mind blowing, the company far out and the adventure something else! Please feel free to read my jumbled account of this adventure below.

Prologue: I guess my adventure really started when I arrived at Chris's domicile. Chris was my partner in crime for this adventure (just like numerous adventures in the past). After only a few minutes of faffing, we were both away from his yard on our fully laden 'gravel bikes' ready for the adventure ahead. Adventure happened quick time - within minutes, Chris had one of his frame fork bags get tangled into his front wheel. Not a great way to start any adventure (a cup of tea woulda been a better option). This minor hiccup was soon rectified and we continued cycling on to the train station.
Hodges to Train Station (3k)
Chirpy looking Chris. Doesn't know what's in store does he?!
Hmm, good choice of bikes?!
Once off the train we had to get a shuttle bus service to (Gatwick) airport. The lifts proved a trifle menace but am pleased to report we made it to the departure lounge OK. Our flight was delayed a little but that was no major issue - it gave us time to pack our bikes up ready for the flight. Bikes were packed in a clear plastic bike bag available from Wiggle (£12). We should have removed pedals and lowered seats but we did not. If we had done what we oughta, our bikes would have been 'pack size' and gone through the conveyer 'thing' to get loaded on the plane. Instead, we had to follow our 'oversized baggage' to a secret area where it was scanned. We didn't want to mess with bike set up's at any point really so remain pleased we didn't pack our bikes as suggested.
Going through customs was ok. I feared they would stop me for carrying 18 titanium pegs in my hand luggage but they didn't. Any messing with me and I could have done some damage with my tent pegs. Remember Jael from the Bible?!

Flight was relatively short and uneventful. Actually, the Johnny Walker (?) whiskey went down real well. Iced was definitely the way to go!

Once off the plane we were re-united with our bikes. My pedal had cut through the plastic bag but was otherwise fine. Chris had 2 broken spokes. Menace!
Menace spokes
We made ready our bikes and met up with a bunch of other bike-packers ready for this adventure including a guy called James. Chris and I 'adopted' James and we became the self-named 'Turino Three'. Was pretty cool meeting James and the bunch of others. We left the airport here in Turino as a group and cycled the Italian roadways about 10k into a square in town where we met a whole bunch more of bike-packers.
Turino to Tomato (23k)
The idea was we would all group together and eat much pizza and drink much beer. All was great except Chris's broken spoke count had increased to 3!
A growing selection of interesting bikes
After much pizza and beer we headed a few k into town and found our accommodation at a back-packers hostel called Tomato. This was nice enough although basic. Chris and I shared a room (with our bikes) and had a relatively decent nights sleep.
A night at the Tomato Hostel
Day One (but not my Genesis): Awoke feeling pretty fine in the Tomato hostel. Breakfast was pretty naff but provided for us all the same. If I recall correctly, I had a couple of rolls with chocolate spread. A few folk had stopped here, so much talking took place along cycle related themes. Chris and I faffed much so we were a little late in leaving.
The plan was for all the bike-packers to meet in the square (where we ate and drank last night) so we could all 'kinda officially' start together. Phew, Chris and I just about made it - our navigation skills tested so early already. There must have been, I dunno, about 50 bike-packers in all from all other the Globe including France, Amsterdam, America and of course the U.K.  Chris, James and I didn't really start with the others - Chris had a broken wheel and we had to take steps to get this fixed!
A Turino bike shop
Getting the wheel fixed was no real problem. We found a local bike shop and the owner fixed the wheel. Chris made sure he was equipped with a few spare spokes. All 'spokely dokely' the Turino Three set off back to the official start to, well, er, start.

Just before we 'officially' set off, I was able to help myself to some meths/alcohol (fuel) that had been left at the start. Chris and James had (thus far) no joy in finding any gas for their stoves. I was equipped with a meths stove, Chris a gas stove and James had both.
Climbing the first climb (115k)
Once we were off, we were off! We navigated through the Streets of Turino and could see the Mountains that lay ahead ready to greet us. Sweet!
Flat for now, but not for long!
After following tarmac for a short distance we were soon on gravel roads. This gravel was relatively hard to cycle on for me and I already knew that my skinny 28mm tyres were hardly the tyres of choice. Traction was the biggest problem. It was fun cycling this gravel all the same and as we cycled, it was pretty neat spotting the odd lizard or bird of prey. Not long after the gravel track started, it ended, and we were back onto a better surface. This better surface was leading up and up and I lost count of the number of 'shrines' (or 'temples' as I called them) and water spots we passed.
Whether temple or shrine, there were lots of these.
On this climb we stopped at a water fountain and drank much. It was only after drinking so that we saw a fainted sign instructing the water was not for drinking! We pushed on and found a local cafe for a food stop. Coke was drank here (figured it would kill any bugs or contaminants in the afore mentioned water) and a lovely meal consisting of chicken, potato and noodles. Delicious!
This first day, like all the others was hot. Sun shining bright and humidity in the air. My hand written ('memory') notes had faded due to the sweat poured over them, so this part of the journey remains a little blurred. However, I remember we cycled a fair distance from the cafe and then stopped at a local store. I purchased banana, bread, small sausages and a bag of 'I didn't know what' here plus safe water.  My banana sandwich was delicious and the interesting bag of stuff turned out to be coconut pieces. Nice! My faded notes suggested we climbed through Towns and at often times beautiful streams/rivers (the colour of my bike frame) were seen.
Hills were apparent and as well as cycling, we bike-a-hiked too - along gravel tracks that were littered with boulders. Some gravel was 'the size of coconuts'! We cycled until we reached a church (or similar) at the top.
I placed the last stone in that wonderful pile :)
The Turino Two
Err, The Turino Three, rather
Bike and I felt on top of the world!
So nice to take pictures when a summit was reached. Am not totally sure which summit I had reached on this occasion. My thinking suggests that this was perhaps the Col de la Lombarde? (Strava confirmed it was the Colle Colombardo). What I do know for sure is what followed. What followed was a ring-twitching descent into the dark. Fast, scary and amazing! Confirmed that my brakes were not best suited for this trip - despite having disc brakes they were not powerful enough to stop my wheels. The rotors were only 140mm and they stunk as they heated up. Perhaps my bike choice was questionable. Also, I didn't carry any lights.

The final part of this night saw us bump into a guy called Will. He was an American who had Di2 issues with his bike, so like us, he started late. We cycled together as a four as we made our way to a camp site where we pitched for the night. The campsite was bizarre in that it had no toilet or shower facilities but offered free wifi and a pizza could be ordered if required. Chris and I pitched tents whereas James and Will had bivvy's.
My solo tent, pitched for the first time in the Great Outdoors
Prior to going to bed for the first time in my pitched tent, I made sure I had a cup of green tea. This tea was boiled using my meth stove. The sink on the campsite made a great wind break. The tea was lovely and felt well deserved after a day bike-packing!
Campsite sink proved to be a great tea making spot
My buddy Chris summed up day one as follows: 'Torino Nice Rally (TNR) day 1, spectacular day up the Colle del Colombardo, the bulk of which is military strada which means gravel and rocks on an unmaintained road only suitable for 4x4's'.

Day Two: This was probably my most favourite day and my least favourite night. The day started around 6 a.m. when I got out of my tent and made myself a lovely porridge breakfast and cup of tea. The others were up not long after. It was nice to phone my wife today - the first time I had spoken to her during this adventure. Packing up the tent and my stuff took a while (got slightly better over duration of event) and as the days went by I learned to pack more in the lower bag on my bars and less in the top bag. Initially, the top bag was so packed there was little room for my hands on the bars and my thumbs would go numb. Oh, the things you learn....
Colle Delle Finestre and Colle Dell'Assieta (70k)
Once packed up, the Turino Three (Will had left already) headed into town for a second breakfast. This breakfast stop was real important, as it was also a toilet stop (no loo's on campsite remember). The town we cycled through was real pretty and quite bizarre and quirky.
We had a lovely croissant for breakfast and I washed this down with a cuppa tea. What wasn't so lovely was the fact that Chris had another spoke menace disaster. Chris had been a wise lad though and had gotten some spare spokes from the bike shop. Chris being the mighty fine bike fixer he is, was able to fix his wheel by himself.
Menace spokes!
After breakfast we headed out on the most fantastic climb. Indeed we were climbing the Colle Delle Finestre - a winding road that stretched over many k's initially on tarmac but became gravel about half way up. On much of these tarmac climbs I would cycle ahead of Chris and James and be lost in my own thoughts. I think they very much enjoyed cycling together and chatting as they went. I like company, but I do love my 'silent hills'. As I climbed, I would only really stop to take photo's. I figured my plan would be to stop at the gravel and wait for Chris and James there.
So starving was I when I reached the gravel which was about half way up the climb. Fortunately, two bike packers (?John and Justin) were already there munching away on lunch. These 'Good Samaritans' fed me too and so grateful I was. Salami and brioche never tasted so good! A cool water fountain was nearby too and the taste was magical.
The Good Samaritans
Chris and James rocked up a short while later. It was great discussing with them that I had eaten lunch a good 100m higher than Ben Nevis! I wonder if they were slightly envious of my feed?!
After my lunch, we set off climbing the gravel part of the track. I think Chris cycled most of this section with me (James was having trouble with his knee I think). My hand written notes had faded with the dripping sweat that soaked onto the paper. I do remember that this climb was super fantastic though. Probably, my favourite climb ever.
So great to see the roads I had climbed
Ooh look, a pixie!
Many a switch-back
How cool, my road, err gravel bike had climbed 2,176m to reach the summit
Chris's bike did too (and got there first)
Lovely water spot at the top
Nice to fill up and drink as we waited for James
Colle delle Finestre
What followed was not a fast descent but more climbing. If it was flat, it didn't feel it. In fact we climbed another mountain - the Colle Dell'Assietta. Views here were absolutely mind blowing.
Wow, 2 mountains in one day. Super great stuff. After lots and lots of ascent, the descent finally came. Not long after descending, we reached a top cafe for lunch purposes. We had the most amazing cheese and salami board. It was good to call SJ and Lunar at this point and tell them of my adventures thus far.
Colle dell'Asseietta 
After this feed, we descended like crazy. It was real scary for me with my brake issues and poor handling skills. At times my bike took air and both wheels were high off the ground. Add to this cows on the track, then sheep and then a nasty sheep dog that tried to bite my butt. Maybe it was a blessing I was going so fast but it was too fast for my liking. 

After all the fun we had had, things turned a little sour. Chris's spokes had become loose, it had become dark (Chris and I didn't have lights) and I punctured. It was quite chilly now too. James had gone ahead and Chris and I decided to walk (I was too tired to fix puncture and didn't want to cycle this Sahara like descent in the dark). We walked about 4k in a slow manner (but I really enjoyed chatting and reflecting on past events) until we reached street lamps. Chris checked his phone and James had found a hotel only a few minutes away. How awesome, victims to victor once more!

Once in the hotel, I pleaded hunger and the hotel chap made me and Chris a real tasty ham and egg toasty. James only managed to secure coco-pops (and a beer). After a feed and a faff, it was nice to took myself into a proper bed and so ended a near perfect day.
Not the cleanest of feet, eh?!
Chris's take on this day was as follows: 'Torino Nice Rally Day 2, the beautiful climb up the Colle delle Finestre which featured on stage 20 of the 2015 Giro D'Italia, they had tarmac though, we had rocks the size of coconuts. We then followed the Strada dell'Assietta, equally stunning, more info on this can be found on !!!!'

Day Three: This was an interesting day that saw us cross the border from Italy into France. I started the day feeling quite slowed down but improved as the day moved along. Climbing the Col D'izoard was clearly the highlight.
Col D'izoard (81k)
Awoke at 6 a.m. and was quick to get out of bed and replace the punctured tube on my bike. Oiled and cleaned the bike chain too using the granny pants that I had brought along. Hand-washed my base layer, which was looking pretty minging with all the dried sweat and salt on it and then went for breakfast.

Breakfast was nice at this hotel and there was lots to choose from. When we sat down and ate we could see a whole bunch of bike packers had crashed the night here too. Some miserable hotel guy seemed to watch me like a hawk as I filled my plate with breakfast items - he even came over to my table and took back the half pack of bread I had helped myself too.

After breakfast and a bit of faffing we were away and cycling at last. The roads were very pretty and climbed up and descended down. I was feeling quite lethargic at the start of this day. We passed through some tunnels which was nice and before too long had left Italy and entered France.
Definitely in France now!
At some point we bumped into a French cyclist called Cyril and he tagged along with the Torino Three for some time. He was a nice guy and a fireman by trade. He had even dealt with the recent tragedies at Nice.
Was so nice cycling through France and seeing what looked liked settlements on top of the hills. The French appeared more friendly than the Italians and were more likely to offer greetings as we cycled past. The French air seemed cleaner too and the buildings more pretty.
At some point we stopped for a bite to eat. This was great, I had the biggest burger you could imagine served from a buss style cafe. Bikes from the Tour de France seemed to be left out and scattered here and there.
After feeding, Chris and James went in search of a bike shop to get Chris's wheel trued as his spokes were being menace. Cyril and I chilled out in the local river cooling our feet. The river was a beautiful colour of blue. After so long, we all re-grouped and set off climbing the mountain.
The mountains or Cols as they are known would often have countdown markers indicating how many k's to the summit and the gradient to be climbed. I would have a swig of water at every marker and enjoyed seeing how the gradients changed.
Somewhere along the climb, we stopped for a coke. Not sure what was in this coke but it picked me up good and proper and I felt 'on form' once more. Cyril was on form too, he cycled away into the distance.
A lot of the road had famous cyclist names painted across it. Many references to Team Sky could be seen. Wow, I was cycling the same roads as those on the Tour de France and other major bike races.
Was truly awesome to reach the summit. Not as pretty as the Finestre summit, but pretty all the same. Was even better when Chris and co. had all reached the top too.
Because I reached the top with plenty of time to spare, I decided to go for a little gravel skiing...
After the summit came a lovely descent. Well lovely enough - I continued to curse my brakes. As fast as we sped down the mountain, we never caught the random girl who cycled past us on an electric bike. Boy, we came down a lot faster than we cycled up!
Was great to pass more buildings on the hills - they looked so neat and pretty. Quite bizarre. Today was quite bizarre again because for the first time, we had reached our campsite in day light!
Nice to pitch in daylight. The ground was so hard, so I used rocks to pitch my tent down and didn't bother with pegs. James didn't have a tent so he had no peg vs rock issues. When it turned dark we went looking for supper but no cafe or similar was open. Not to worry - I cooked myself a double helping of porridge and washed this down with green tea.
Following a hard enough day and my lovely porridge it was time for a good nights sleep. Real cosy in my little tent. Zzzzzz.
Goodnight from me
Day 4: Another beautiful day. Who knew bike packing could be so much fun? Climbing the Col de Vars was the highlight of today.
Col de Vars (68km)
For the first time on this trip, I woke up cold to the sound of Chris's alarm on his phone. It was dark and I was (as usual hungry). I quickly settled into my routine of making myself some porridge and green tea. Delicious.

Once we had left camp and started to cycle my head-space was filled with a wish list. Oh, how I wished for double sided pedals, bigger disc rotors, brakes that worked and fatter tyres. My thinking soon changed when I considered the things I did have. Was real pleased I brought along silk socks, my feet were a little chilly first thing. Then I started wishing again - my headset (I think) was making noises and I was wishing it didn't. These squeaky noises continued for some time - we all decided it was actually a stow away mouse (called Gerald). My other sadness which soon turned to delight was finding the bum crème I thought I had lost! 
The cycling was great today. We started cycling along roads that had severe drops to the side. The route was mostly descending and passed through many tunnels. We cycled along in this manner up until around snack time - 'elevenses'.
We stopped at a super little shop and I had the most wonderful turkey sandwich ever. A cup of tea went down well too, along with some brioche. Delicious. Think I put weight on during this trip. We found another shop close by (superstore) where I stopped for supplies (cake, noodles, soup and rum). The rum was only like £3 for the bottle and was a nice rum (alc 43%). Felt good to fill my hip flask at last. Following our feed and supply stop, we headed out. Col de Vars was our destination.
The navigators (Chris and James) had found a lovely gravel track for us to follow. This track was beautiful but quite difficult to cycle - it was hilly and of course covered in gravel. Some sections were bike-a-hike. The biggest problem with this track was that it lead to a dead end!
The dead end was nice in itself. It was a river basically. So nice to place my feet in these freezing cold waters and relax a little.
After a little chilling, relaxing and looking at options there was only one thing for it.. ..To retrace our tracks and go down the menace track we had just climbed. This was fun but scary and super bouncy. Some contents from my tri bag bounced off never to be seen again. I didn't lose any major items, just my sun crème, electrolytes and some food.
It was kinda nice being back on tarmac roads, which improved my cycling efficiency big time. Like other days, we cycled along beautiful roads with views of mountains all around. I was really enjoying climbing these ascents in beautiful weather.
We reached Vars, but this was not the summit. The summit was still some distance away. Reaching Vars was nice and indicated it was time to stop for a feed.
Nice bench, but no food available here
We found a café and had some sarnies made up for us. Cycling and eating was definitely the way to go. Fuel for the climb ahead!
From the café, we continued to climb. Great to have those countdown markers once again. Not far to go now!
Woo hoo! I reached the top. As beautiful as ever. In the winter months lots of skiing takes place here. Right now though, lots of cycling. A French gentleman came over and patted me on the back, congratulating me for completing this wonderful climb. Nice.
I cycled in silent hill mode, whilst Chris and James cycled together (I think). With these few spare minutes I had at the top, what better way to celebrate by having a sneaky rum?! Well deserved I reckoned.
The café was selling post cards at the top. I took pictures of these marmotte creatures because I saw loads of them the previous day or 2 ago. However, whenever I took my camera out to take a snap, the blighters would disappear.

After photo's and drinks at the top, we took a fantastic descent into a place beginning Jav (my hand-written notes faded again due to much sweat etc). We soon found a place to pitch our tents and tarp. Once pitched we went off to find pizza!
Only just fit into my tent, but it's a good fit...
The café we found was only a few metres away and was fantastic. They served up great pizza. And the rum was something else!
There were signs subliminally indicating that rum was the drink of choice. Rum posters were on the wall. The staff even gave me a bottle of rum (free) to finish off. Rum and fun, oh, bike-packing should so be done!
After a great night (and day) we retired to bed. I probably had the best night's sleep this night and awoke feeling warm and energised.

Chris commented 'Today we decided to go off piste, gradually getting further and further behind the curve, this seamed like crunch time so we headed for the roads and ascended the Col de Vars not before a little off road excursion which ended abruptly at weir of some kind and no further track to follow (damn you Beta google maps cycling) Col de Vars has featured on the tour 33 times so its pretty well known, its peak being a ski resort, lovely decent to the best campsite of the trip and probably the best pizza as well. at last we get ahead of the curve and it starts to feel like a holiday again'.

Day 5: Yet another far out fantastic day. Another Col. Another day of adventure.
Col de la Bonette (69k)
Like most, if not all days, I was first to wake up and get up. I pinched Chris's towel and had a shower. I think Chris initially thought it had rained when he located his wet towel. Haha.
The day began by heading into town and eating pastries for breakfast. Then the day's cycling began - we were heading for the Col de la Bonette, apparently the highest pass in Europe.
Again, I mostly cycled this climb 'silent hill' style. Flies were a real menace today. A whole bunch of these bug's were swarming around my head and following me up the climb. Why so many bugs, I didn't know - I had showered after all. Luckily a cyclist caught me up on the climb, overtook me, and the bugs left me and followed him! Ha!
We all re-grouped about half way up the climb and stopped for a wonderful feast. Todays delight was cheese and salami with much bread. I don't think I'd ever eaten as much salami, cheese and breads on any previous adventure. Delicious! Suitably fuelled, we left the food stop and climbed, climbed, climbed.
Really loved the zig-zag type roads with their many switchbacks. As I climbed it was interesting to pass what I think were old army buildings. Another interesting thing passed me too - an almost naked man on a bike!
As I climbed the road, I was reminded of home. Some army bunkers were seen and one had 'Doo' scribbled across the top of it. My house is called 'Doo Little', so am sure you can see the link there.
Just before the summit there was a fork in the road. Well, there was a choice of going left or straight on. The Torino Three had much discussion about this and the thinking processes involved. Anyways, I took the left (steeper) side to climb the mountain and reach the summit. Chris and James went right (straight on). 
I was super pleased to reach the summit but was a trifle disappointed it was not as objectively pretty as other summits. I seemed to be at the top for ages (probably only minutes) waiting for Chris and James and wasn't sure which side they would enter from (so I constantly went back and forth). Ah, and then I spotted Chris. I ran down to Chris and then ran alongside him as he pushed to the top. James was seconds behind. Woo hoo - we had all climbed the highest pass in Europe. Fantastique!
I cycled down to the crossing one way and Chris and James the other. Where we met, we stopped and ate the delicious cake I purchased a while back on much lower ground. Ah man, this cake was the best!

Whilst eating cake, the heavens had opened. We all layered up some and then started the terrifying (for me) descent. Chris was trying to chill me out and informed me that at least my brakes wouldn't overheat and my tyres would grip ok. Chris and James flew down. Chris skidded and did well to manage his back end. I flew down too, but had my brakes on pretty much constantly and was using my feet to slow me down when things got real hairy. Was pleased the super fast descent ended with the spotting of a place to eat. We had more salami and salad on this break which was great.

More descent (but less hairy and terrifying) followed. Some cycling was down these special bike only roads. Our descent led to a place called Isola, where we found our next camp site to pitch.
Once we had set up camp (I used rocks instead of pegs again) we cycled into town and found a nice restaurant. Pizza and rum featured on the menu again. The bike packers life is a great one. Once back at the tent it felt quite strange to think this was potentially my last night of camping.

Day 6: No Col's today. Bike packing continued but it was all down hill from here. Literally!
Descent into Nice (83k)

Breakfast today was different to my usual - was fed up with porridge by now, so I treated myself to 2 sachets of tomato soup and some cake. My being up first remained the usual. When we had all showered and packed up, we set off for a long descent.
We hadn't cycled too long or far before we spotted a place for our now customary second breakfast. Brioche and cakes. Oh, and a cup of tea.
We left the cafe and continued to descend km after km. We had a headwind so a little effort was required. We appeared to be following a river course which again was painted a beautiful blue colour. Not only was our route long and descending, it was pretty straight too.
We found a nice place to pull over and clambered down to the river. Was only right that I took a wee paddle in these lovely waters. The spot we found was really quite awesome and we ate some of the wild figs growing there too. This would have been a great place to camp, but we didn't - we set off once more down this long descent.

Our plan was to reach the Café Du Cycliste before it closed. It was a Sunday so the café shop was likely to close earlier - around 2.30 p.m. if I remember correctly. This café was like the 'official' end point. With thoughts of champagne we set off with the hope we would reach our destination before closing time. All was going well until Chris punctured! At least it wasn't his spokes this time...

Chris fixed his wheel quick time and off we set, still hopeful to make the café. In almost no time, the mountains were left behind and the road ahead was flattening. And then, just like that, wow, I saw the sea! Wow, we had reached Nice. Nice was no nice! Ha!
I loved the smell of the sea air. Was so pleased we had all cycled Torino - Nice and were all well. Was pleased and chuffed that our end was only metres away. A tinge of sadness hit me as I remembered the recent tragedy that happened here not so long back and thought about all those innocent lives that were lost. Memorials were clearly present as we cycled along. Folk back home must have known I was within spitting distance of the official finish because my phone rang just prior to reaching the café. It was nice to speak to SJ, Lunar and my Ma, even if they did hold up my arrivee! Ha!
Outside the Café Du Cycliste
Inside the Café Du Cycliste
Back outside the Café Du Cycliste
Was super cool to have completed a truly awesome adventure. We celebrated over a few soft drinks - this was a café, no champagne available! Other bike packers were here too and over the course of the next couple of days we made repeat trips here to chill out and share stories. Woo hoo we made it!

Much chilling out, story swapping, beer drinking and pizza eating followed. We also took a celebratory dip in the sea. The night ended with the Torino Three plus another cyclist called V crashing out in 'Bruno's' apartment.

 Day 7: This day was spent chilling out in Nice. We cycled little (about 14k) but it was nice cycling so close to the sea. We caught up with other bike packers and did more story sharing.
Chilling in Nice (14k)
I found it quite interesting to see the big fat tyred bikes of other cyclists. My skinny bike may have not been ideal but it accomplished the mission. Yes indeed, it cycled along gravel tracks and took me from Torino to Nice. Smug I was and smug I am!
Can you guess which tyre is mine?
Pretty Nice.
This day actually finished in the early hours of the following day. A whole bunch of bike packers had met up and we celebrated some more by drinking beer (rum) and eating pizza. Some folk had not finished their adventure yet and still had a distance to cycle. The Torino Three retired back to Bruno's following the celebrations.

Day 8: Our final day. Well, final day for Chris and I. James had further adventure planned in Corsica.
Bruno's to Airport (2.5k)
Chris and I spent our final morning of this trip packing up our bikes for the last time. Is always kinda sad when an adventure comes to it's close but we were still buzzing really. After much faffing, we said our goodbyes to James (and he got a big man hug from me) and then we cycled to the airport.

We were asked if we would like to fly to Heathrow as opposed to Gatwick. This suited us so no problem. We packed our bikes away in their clear plastic bags and after so long boarded our plane and headed home.
Goodbye Nice.

Chris and I shared stories on the plane. We re-lived our adventure. We both know we'd like to do this again. Before concrete plans were made for 2017, our flight came to an end. Usual story of collecting bikes, unwrapping, blowing up tyres and making sure no bust spokes. We then rode more gravel tracks to Chris's abode (via McDonald's) and I guess that's when my adventure really ended.
Heathrow to Hodges (16k)
Post-script: Chris and James mostly made my adventure what it was, so a big shout out to those guys. It'd be nice to meet up with James sometime in the future, especially if I require a translator. If you, like me, are interested in his adventuring then please check out his blog here!
As for Chris, well, we all know he's as mad as a box of frogs. Am sure adventure awaits us both somewhere in the near future. Pair of idiots that we are ...
Goodbye from Chris and Au Revoir from me!