Friday, 29 June 2018

Channel to Med, part 2

Today was my 14th day of riding.

Sunday 24th was a pleasant day on quiet roads, with little traffic. It being Sunday, I bought supplies in a supermarket before leaving Lusignan, many are open just in the morning. Feeling relaxed I stopped several times for photos. 

At the campsite I washed all the clothes I was wearing... as well as my wallet... along with its contents. Yes, I am that clean.

Good, steady ride on Monday with clear blue skies and a very welcome breeze. Camping a la Météorite at Rochechouart was really good with a pleasant, helpful warden.

Tuesday saw the start of hotter weather. A 2 mile climb, billed as 2 kilometres in the book, was the start. After that the route rolled along nicely. On one climb I noted the temperature at 34C!

Wednesday was forecast as a hot afternoon so I bit the bullet, got up an hour earlier and was on the road for 7:30. The riding was good. Had a second breakfast in a hotel bar en route and arrived at my camp by noon. 

Gave the tarp a try, but sadly it didn't provide cool shade. Good job there always seems to be shade on each site.

These tiny soap leaves by Lifeventure are good. You peel one off and bung it in warm water. There are no suds and rinsing is easy. Everything I wash seems to come clean. Obviously, in this temperature, drying isn't a problem.

Thursday the 28th was a day of mixed moods. I set off with a climb of over 3 miles with no respite. Passed through a beautiful valley with gorgeous views. But the ride ended with a horrible climb up a single track lane to my campsite. Aaaargh!

I felt quite overwhelmed. I think I needed to get past the halfway point so I could feel on a psychological downhill to Nice. Felt lonely too, surrounded by "beautiful people" from the Netherlands. A chat with Chrissie and lots of support from lovely folk on Twitter helped. Many rightly pointed out it was never gonna be easy, else everyone would be doing this. Still managed to appreciate the scenery.

On a more positive note, wildlife (which I recognise) spotted so far: deer fawn, red squirrels, woodpecker with pointed crest, fox, pine marten (I think). I really wish I knew more about birds.

In other news. Chatting with a Dutch tourer with a really nice bike. He had a gel saddle. Much softer than mine. I'd been struggling with bum pain on climbs. Always thought soft saddles a bad idea. Anyroad, on the day I bought my power packs, I also picked up a cheapo gel saddle from the supermarket and fitted it outside. It took a couple of adjustments and I kept my old saddle, just in case. After four days I finally accepted the gel was better... I threw my old one in a bin.  Never too old to learn.

Friday started with the climb of the day. But this was over by the time I rolled into Sarlat for coffee and croissant. There followed a lovely ride on a cycle trail and a meander up the Dordogne to Souillac, beer and camp.

I'd reached a running total of 532 miles. I estimate my final mileage to be something like 1020-1040. In any event, I'm now over halfway in distance, having been cycling for two full weeks.

I'm in a far better mood as I write. Many thanks to all those who helped lift it. You know who you are.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Channel to Med, part 1

Today I'm eight days into my ride. So far I've covered 304 miles. The total distance of 1000 miles is nominal but I'm more or less a quarter of the way, cos there's 32 days of riding.

I had a good drive down to Portsmouth on the Friday, marred only by a serious hold up about 30 miles out. I feared I'd miss the rental car closing time, but made it with just 10 minutes to spare.

The ferry crossing was great. I ate in the fab, full service restaurant for both dinner and breakfast. Highly recommended buffets for both. Slept well in a very comfy cabin.

I left St Malo with cloudy skies, saw Bill Bailey wandering along the shore road (yes really) and had a pleasing ride on a mix of quiet roads and cycleways, sometimes muddy. Waving goodbye to the Channel, I headed south and stayed on a campsite in Pontorson.

Monday, I chose a cycle route to Fougeres rather than the road route in my guide. Added a few miles but very relaxing. A blown tree along the way meant removing panniers and lifting the Sherpa over, helped by a kind, passing hiker. He set off and, as I sorted luggage I was greeted by a beautiful fawn, approaching the tree from t'other side.

My Helinox Ground chair front joints both broke. It still works, just, as I await a reply to my email. Rained overnight.

Set off in drizzle to Craon but it passed by the afternoon. Warden told me site would be closed tomorrow  She's having a day off. Lucky. Washed my t shirt, knickers and socks.

T'was a hard day from Craon to Chalonnes sur Loire. Busy, undulating, straight roads with long uphill drags. My not quite dry laundry was bungeed on my rear luggage. Stopping by a church I noticed one missing sock and no knickers! I almost chucked the remaining sock away but, on arrival at my campsite I found the lost one, clean and dry, hanging undamaged from my rear axle. Not the cassette side. Another overcast morning but warm and sunny again in Chalonnes.

Chalonnes to Brissac Quincé was a bit of treat. At a little over 20 miles the cycling was done by lunchtime so I had the afternoon off to relax. I enjoyed a drink with a caravanning couple, Andrew and Tricia from Suffolk.

The first night's camp at Pontorson had cost me 22 euros. A four star site with pool, bar etc but still a bloody ridiculous price. The warden at Craon called them thieves. Every other night has cost under 10 so when I saw that my planned site for Weds was a four star site I popped into the tourist information and asked them  They sent me to a Camping a la Ferme, in a vineyard. 9.20! Result. I did the same on Thursday and paid 8.

Thursday's ride was a relaxing wander along the Loire via Saumur and a lovely lunch in the centre, before finishing at a site in Candes Saint Martin.

Friday was a big un. Just over 54 miles and likely to be the longest day of my journey. Gorgeous weather. Cool morning and a breeze made for perfect cycling conditions. Camped in Parthenay.

Today, Saturday. What can I say? My Anker Powercore, usb lead and usb mains plug were stolen overnight from the shower block. To say I was upset is an understatement. This is the kind of event that can easily trigger depression in me. A phone call with Chrissie and lots of support from Twitter friends helped. In the end it was lucky I was in a big city cos I found a huge Super U hypermarket nearby and found some similar power packs. On Chrissie's recommendation I bought two 10000 mah packs (the Anker was 21000) and two plugs and leads in case the same happens again. I reckon it was I was in a big city site an low lifes regularly visit the site's shower block in the hope of finding a phone they can sell. Most of the other sites have been quiet, often almost empty. As friends have said, you have to trust folk on a journey like this. Each time I visit a shop for food my bike's outside with most of my luggage.

Anyway  time to move. I had a decent ride and met up with my friend Bernie, a mountain rescue pal. We enjoyed a fine afternoon and evening laughing and reminiscing.

I'm really grateful to all who've donated to Cancer Research UK via my Justgiving page. I love you all for your generosity. If you'd like to add your name to the list of sponsors and support a very important cause, visit here and donate whatever you wish. It'd be wonderful if I could make £1000, double my original target.

Don't forget you can follow my progress, real time, on Social Hiking. Find my page here.

Thanks for all your support, especially today.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Kidney donation, part 5

I've abbreviated the title this time, but it's still the tale of my journey.

On Friday I received the parcel from Suzanne containing some fancy sample bottles for checking and cross matching my blood with Jamie's. I spent a vaguely amusing half hour being passed round in circles on the phone to Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, to be told eventually that they couldn't take these samples. Strange. It's a large hospital.

Before phoning Suzanne I tried another hospital in Tameside and found they could do it. They've a walk in clinic. 

So today I pootled over there and waited quietly in a short queue. I was a bit worried cos there were warnings on the attached form to say the blood had to be taken by a suitably trained person. When I got in there the nurse said they didn't use bottles like these but, in any event, she pulled two syringes full of blood from my arm and inserted said blood into the two bottles using a needle.

I didn't even cry.

Then off to a Post Office to pack them off to the lab in South Wales where they'll work some magic. They're on next day delivery so, tomorrow, my fine Yorkshire blood will be in Wales.The checks are for HLA typing, anaemia, hepatitis B and C, CMV, EMV and syphilis (don't ask me what the initials stand for). Evidently there doesn't need to be an exact match. Recent contact with a donor, who gave to his son, showed he only had a 50% match. Suzanne tells me stuff can be added to Jamie's blood to assist compatibility and they've even done transplant with no match at all. All that sounds quite positive to me, just as long as they don't find any type of infection I guess.

All that work takes at least two weeks, then Suzanne has to meet with their scientific team to get their judgement. She expects to have an answer by early July. So by the time I'm back from France I'll be in touch to get the outcome.

Fingers, as ever, are crossed.

There'll be a gap now in these updates until I'm back in the UK, after 20th July. Follow my adventure in France on here or Twitter if you wish. As an aside, I'm raising money for Cancer Research UK. My Justgiving page is here.

Thanks for visiting the blog.

I wish for luck for my friend Jamie.

To read the whole story go to my kidney donation page which you can access on the left side of this blog.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Channel to Med ride, final prep and packing

In just five days I'll be driving down to Portsmouth, with my bike in the back of a rental car, to board the overnight ferry to St Malo. Today, I have been mostly packing...and flapping.

I sorted everything on my packing list and laid it out on the spare bed.

Then I packed it into my panniers and bar bag.

The labels on my bags are so I don't get confused when loading them on the bike. They also help finding stuff in camp, not to mention repacking. There are two front panniers. LW means left, waterproofs. RC is right, clothes. Two larger rear panniers. LK is left, kitchen and RB, right bedroom. From experience I've learnt to have waterproof and kitchen on the left. I always dismount on the left and lean the bike on the right side. It means I have easier access to waterproofs in rain and my kitchen, back after shopping.

Then I weighed it.! Three kilogrammes more than my LEJOG load! 

Lots of rethinking, and lots of input from Chrissie, saw me swapping the Southern Cross 2 for our Hilleberg Enan, swapping my spare shorts for lycra ones, leaving out my book of the route after Chrissie found a Kindle version (for my phone) and leaving out the water filter (I barely used it on LEJOG and if I do wild camp anywhere I have treatment tablets and can boil water anyway). All of this reduced the load by around three kilograms, to the same as I carried on LEJOG. Phew!

So I'm all ready bar the shouting...just need to add a few food items to fall back on: coffee, muesli, snacks etc, but I'll hardly be short of tasty grub in France, not to mention drink!

My efforts at raising cash for Cancer Research UK have so far yielded 154% of my original target, at £770. I wonder if I'll make £1000. I hope so. It's a good cause that has touched most, if not all of us. My sincere thanks to all the lovely folk who've donated. If you'd like to contribute go to my Justgiving page here.

If you wish you can follow my route on Social Hiking here thanks to our Spot Messenger and the lovely Phil Sorrell at Social Hiking. I hope to be posting on Twitter as well as here too along the way. Hope it won't be too boring.

For the gear nerds out there, here's a list of wot I'm taking. A note for non-cyclists: it's easier carrying heavier loads on a bike than on your back. Hence my taking a few luxuries like my Helinox Ground chair and a frying pan (giving lots of options for cooking).

FRANCE BIKECAMP LIST                                             
Tick or cross

Tick or cross
OR long sleeve shirt

Food and drinks

3 OR T shirts

Frying pan

Long underwear leggings

Wooden spoons & spatula

2 pairs cycling shorts

Pan scrub

Swimming trunks

Multi-use detergent

Rohan Escapers trousers

Drying cloth

3 Rohan knickers


3 Rohan socks


4 Hankies

Coffee filter

Bentu jacket & fleece

Minimo & Alpkit stoves

Paclite trousers

Gas x 2 and gas adapter

Mtb shoes

Lighters + matches

Goretex shell mitts

Air pump for Xtherm

Fleece gloves

Emergency chlorine

Fingerless cycling gloves

3 litre water carrier

Baseball cap & cycling cap

Food bags


MSR pot cleaner



Light down vest


Waterproof overshoes

Loo kit


Fabric washing leaves

Garmin satnav

Spare glasses

Cateye bike computer


Bike repair kit

Tent & airbed repair kit

First aid kit

Pee bottle


Microfibre cloth

3 x bike bottles

Hilleberg Enan tent

SD card reader

TN tarp

Compact digital camera

Neoair XTherm

Camera gorilla pod



Sleeping bag


Hayfever meds


Ibuprofen etc

Notebook & pens

Care Plus bite cream

E-Werk charging device

Helinox Ground chair

Mains phone/USB charger

6 clothes pegs & line

Shaver socket mains plug

Swiss Army knife

Charger (Anker/Powergen)

Spot messenger

USB to micro lead

Rear lamp batt 2xAA

USB to mini lead

Computer CR2032

Given this lot's shared between four panniers, a bar bag and a rack, I always have a list of what's where so I not only know where stuff is but also how to repack it. After a few days this'll commit to memory but I keep a small laminated copy in my bar bag. You'll see total weights. Again, for anyone who's never cycle camped, this is not an unusual load. The weight of food is estimated.

Front right pannier: Clothes, belt for strapping, baseball cap, warm hat, duvet vest, trainers/sandals 
In pocket: spare glasses, headtorches, drying cords, 6x clothes pegs, fabric washing leaves
Weight: 3kg
Front left pannier: Waterproof jacket & trousers, overshoes, wash kit, towel, toilet kit
In pocket: Buff, warm gloves, overmitts
Weight: 3.8kg
Rear right pannier: Sleeping bag, sleeping mat, pillow, pee bottle, pump, bike repair kit, cleaning cloth, Helinox chair           
In pocket: Spare spokes, long tie wraps, earplugs, camping repair kit, ibuprofen
Weight: 5.4kg
Rear left pannier: Cooking kit, 3 litre water carrier, food, gas, plastic bags, hayfever meds
In pocket: Emergency food, spoons, grater, 3xbag clips, spatula, frypan handle, lighter, fire steel, purifying tabs, MSR pan cleaner, gas adapter
Weight: 6kg
Bar bag: Snacks, notebook & pens, lock key, first-aid kit, camera, tripod, card reader, sunscreen, Mosiguard, charger & leads, phone/usb charger, E-WERK  & leads, wallet, Swiss Army knife, French/English dictionary
Weight: 3.4kg
Rear luggage rack: Tent & tarp
Weight: 1.6kg
Total weight of luggage: 23.5kg plus 3 x 750ml of water (1.5l) equals 25kg
In clothes pockets: phone
NB Bike, with racks, lock, pump & computer weighs 15.6kg
Total load, bike & luggage = 40.6kg

I'm a teensy bit nervous. I found being alone difficult towards the end of my LEJOG ride, but some of that was due to the lousy weather. Hopefully I won't suffer from that in July, in the south of France.

Wish me luck and thanks for visiting.