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Thursday, 17 May 2018

A fitting end... full circle


Day 6... our blowout day... leave everything on the mountain was the plan. We had originally planned to walk the Europaweg and cross the Hängebrücke (suspension bridge) but the heavy winter snowfall was lingering and the impassable high paths prevented us from completing our original plan. Day 3 had seen us trek up a part of the Europaweg including some very dodgy cliff hanging steps. Today we would attempt to get up to the bridge... not knowing if the way would be blocked or the bridge shut.

We set off full of optimism... our aching muscles now used to being beaten into submission.. at least until we reached the turnoff for the alternate bridge path. To say it was steep would be underplaying it. We discovered that the path without rocks was worse than that with as it stretched the achilles to breaking point. It was difficult to take any rest as you would inevitably be standing on an incline with all weight bearing down on one ankle joint.

Up and up the path wound without respite for what seemed like hours. But as we looked back we realised how high we had gone in a very short mileage. It wasnt that we were incredibly unfit... the path was just that tough.
We reached a place called Kreuz... called thus because of the huge cross standing on the top of a point. Assumably it had been helicoptered in ... either that or chapeau to the chaps/chapesses that had hauled it up.
We stopped there ... on a grassy slope to eat lunch. Frankly it was one of the most picturesque lunch stops ever. The sun was beating down... the wild alpine flowers were just coming into bloom and from our vantage point we had access to many of the bigger peaks... hidden from view lower down. Particularly fascinating were the mounds of glacial ice which looked poised to topple.

However the walk wasnt going to walk itself... so somewhat reluctantly we left the idyllic and back to the hellish steep climb. Every bend promised a flatter path but didnt deliver. We encountered our first walkers.... who whilst bounding downwards... as opposed to us crawling upwards... informed us that the bridge was open and the other side was steeper. Great! It put a spring in my step for the next 10 steps before my poor overworked legs screamed enough and settled back into the plod of before. Eventually we reached the top and a signpost to the bridge... 30 minutes.

As we were walking I kept an eye on my altimeter and mileage... watching one speed upwards whilst the other ticked slowly.

We reached a hut ... and then 10 mins later were standing at the bridge.

For the record ... and to explain why it hurt so much...
We had climbed 2100ft in just about 3 miles.
Thats an average gradient of roughly 35%. (Feel free to correct if wrong... the maths was done whilst body and mind was under duress)

We stared at the bridge... it was pretty high. Worse than that... it swayed with the wind...
Worse than that was the sign informing that 30% ish of the bridge had been built from materials from the old bridge.... Great... just Great!
Worse than that was the fact that the floor was grated and not solid and therefore provided a fantastic view down to the ravine below.

All in all it looked pretty scary!

We edged out... ladies were deffo not going first in this instance...
Hands were firmly on the railings on either side.
'Dont look down' said Paul... which meant we instantly did.
Not pretty

The further towards the middle of the bridge the more it swayed with us walking across. Add to that the wind which gusted more and more the further away from the protective mountain we got.

The photos taken in the middle of the bridge were taken with a little reluctance... hands off railings... dont drop the phone... dont move around too much... you get the gist!

Once the obligatory photos were taken... we hotfooted (slowly walked to avoid swaying) it across the rest of the bridge... hitting terra firma with a sigh of relief.

Hopefully the way downwards was clear because there was no way we were going back across that bridge!

The way down was marked as a blue alpine route which generally means narrower paths... even steeper gradient and more rocky terrain...and it didnt disappoint. About halfway down it was the knees that were crying enough and we longed for a bit of uphill. (Oh the irony)

Once we got back into Randa... we took the longer... wood walk... which included some uphill ... just to finish us off. We had come full circle today and ticked off another of our objectives. It was a fitting way to bring a close to this holiday.

We both kinda grew up in Switzerland and leaving it does sorta feel like leaving home.
With one more night in our extremely uncomfortable tent to ensure all muscles seize up... the journey home tomorrow will be a long one. We have a plan to break it up though.
You have to leave somewhere in order to come back and one adventure has to end so that another may begin... but it would be nice to stay in the Swiss bubble a little longer!

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The power of nature


Day 5 began in a slightly more chilled fashion. This was going to be an easy day ... ready for the big blowout Thursday.. our last day here.
We got up pretty late... tested out our various aches and pains in the walk to the shower... declared ourselves fit enough for an easy 'by the river' walk and set off.
The first little bit through the forest challenged our slightly broken joints.
Just as well its an easy day huh

We passed the Europaweg signs with ease... we have done that one and strolled down towards the town of Randa... we reached the river crossing.... or where there had been one to discover that the bridge... steel girders and all had been torn from the mountainside by an avalanche. It was not the first sign we had had here. If the lower reaches of the mountains... even into the valleys had paths and bridges torn out... it was little wonder that the upper reaches were deemed impassable. We had struggled over tiny snowpacks in comparison to the monsters that hung above our heads.
If anything has been shown to me this week.. it is a reminder of the forces of nature and how man can build and try to tame it with bridges... roads and houses... but in the end ... all one can do is cling on and hope that the destructive power of nature will pass by you... in some cases by only inches.
Paul said that it was a reminder of the cycle of life... there has to be destruction for renewal to begin. All too true.

So we went down the slope... and found a lower path which led to an undemolished bridge. Of course we couldnt resist a little rock clambering and came up to the edge of the end of the avalanche... bits of bridge everywhere and the ice still a foot thick with the water gushing out from underneath it.

We then continued on the path... down into the town of Randa... a very quiet town... no people... or shops. Some of the older chalets were decorated beautifully as a reminder of times when this wasnt a tourist trap valley. The slate roofs now coloured with moss and lichen blended into the rugged landscape perfectly.

We found the path on the other side of the river and dutifully followed it... ignoring signs for Domhütte (blue route) and Weißhornhütte (undoubtedly impassable) and stuck to our easy day plan. Go us!

Having decided our goal was mileage rather than vertical feet we were aiming for 10ish miles... we continued on by the river.. noting all the places washed out by Avalanche. We came to a sign for St Niklaus. Lets go that way.... regretted instantly as the footpath went straight up. Immediately we came across signs... fallen trees blocking our path .. ignored and stepped over as usual. We continued ip and it wasnt long before the first snowpack came into view... we clambered down the slope... around the bottom and back up to the path. Here we go again!
Several snowpacks later the path wound down back to the river path that we could have followed. To be honest the path after that was rather dull... it just steadily went down the valley. Miles down that would have to be climbed back up...

At nearly 7 miles with aching feet and legs we called it a day and turned round to head back. On our way we saw the Hängebrücke (suspension bridge) perched high above the valley floor. That part of the mountain looked clear of avalanche chutes and below the main snowline. Given that our original plan had included a traverse of this monster bridge a plan formed for tomorrow. We could at least climb up to it... even if the bridge was shut it would be a good climb. Perfect way to end the week here.

And so we crawled back to the campsite for a cold coke and a good game of cards... with my head filled with what tomorrow might bring.

Deffo no easy walk in the morning we agreed... lets go out on a high!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Europaweg wanderings


Day 4

Easy walking day....
Our nights sleep was punctuated by tossing and turning to get comfortable so we awoke fairly late... but that was ok as today was an easy walk day.

Eventually we set off from the campsite to the start of the paths just to the left of our tent. The signs were to Randa (the town just down the valley) following the river and to our delight Europaweg... the path we had been planning on Day 2 but got told it was shut. Well this bit wasnt shut. Following a confirmatory look from bro, no other discussion needed , we set off ... uphill!

Uphill doesnt really describe it. Right out of the bat the gradient was tough. We worked out that it was an average gradient of 33%. I.e hurt.

As we slowly worked our way up the mountainside... the fallen trees quickly became evident. The first time we came to one that blocked the path... we called it sign number 1. The first sign that the path may not be passable at some point. So we stopped and turned round....

No of course we didnt! We clambered over it.. ignoring sign 1. The gradient didnt let up at all but it was the kind of path that you had to concentrate on... steep slope... slippery rocks... tree branches... roots... the obstacles kept coming. Being the nice people we are... we cleared several of the obstacles from the path... for any future walkers... and more importantly for us... in case we were forced to come back down this way.
The path got narrower as it wound round the mountainside... the drop to the left getting steeper and steeper. The views though got better and better because for every 0.1 of a mile we were gaining a huge amount of feet. The snowpack which we stumbled onto early in places was melting nicely... causing several bits of the rocky path to be stream like. .. one place the path had eroded to the point where it was one foot in front of the other... sign number 2!

And so we continued up... the legs holding up nicely considering the gradient.

Then we reached a precipice... only in switzerland that just meant hammer some steps in with a guide rope anchored. Unfortunately the guide rope was on the mountain side and not the drop side which meant both of us were holding onto it for dear life.

I do not want to come back down that!

We continued up and shortly came to a nice little flat clearing with a big overhanging rock. I made a mental note of it as a place to shelter should the weather turn. At the moment the sun was out and scorching... in the mountains it can turn in an instant... the clouds were starting to drift down from the high peaks and they looked a little rain cloud like.

Slightly further on... the snow blocked the path..
Sign number 3

Its doable and so with one hand firmly wedged in the ice we kicked out snow steps and used the bracken as footholds. The hands froze quickly... becoming fairly numb. We edged our way round that and continued upward. Scrambling over wet rocks... up muddy patches... and around more downed trees... signs 4 5 and 6.

Another snowpack blocking the path... this time easy enough to scramble down.. around the bottom and back up.
. We kept going... in hope that we were close to the top and we would find a sign for Tasch with gentle sloping downhill... anything but go DOWN those steps.

Then came a larger snow pack... followed swiftly by another... the path now gone under the snow...
Paul scrambled over the first 2 to have a look at the onward path... his feet sunk quite a way into the snow and on others the snow came out from underneath him. His hands frozen from digging them into the snow. He stood at the top of the ridge...

Its doable but I dont think the next bend is!
I followed in his footsteps (literally) to see for myself. Essentially we could have got over the next bit and maybe the next bit... but the snow packs blocking the path were becoming more frequent... there was no signpost to Tasch and our agreed turnaround time of 3pm was fast approaching... and the cloud was closing in....

All in all the signs were now coming so thick and fast that the choice was being made for us.

So reluctantly ... with those scary steps in mind we headed downwards... having put grippers on our shoes for the bits that were bad enough uphill but could be terrifying on the downhill.

We took one last look at the spectacular view... noting how far we had climbed up... 1000ft in a very short space of mileage.
Not bad going!

I thought this was our easy day!!

The way down.. aside from the occasional slippy hairy bits was easy enough to negotiate...
In no time at all we were facing the steps... downwards. We stopped to gather the nerves and sat down... feet resting on a tree branch and took in the view. Packs of ice hanging over the edges of the mountains looking as if they were ready to fall .. the sound of the water rushing down the mountainside... and still far below.. like toys the cars on the road.

The wind was picking up and it was getting cold and looking like rain.
Keen to negotiate the steps before the rain fell... we plowed onwards.

In actuality... although it wasnt great teetering on the edge of a precipice... it wasnt as bad as we had thought going down and soon cleared that obstacle. The rest I would say was a stroll compared to what had gone before... apart from the fact that the constant down was playing havoc on knees and ankles! The last bit hurt more than any of it!

We strolled into the campsite just as the rain began to fall...
Good timing we said!

Easy day tomorrow??

Yup!

Broken bridges



Day 3 started out with the effects of Day 2 still very much lingering... broken bodies. Sleeping in the car, whilst having been a good idea the day before with the rain pouring down, was not in hindsight the best in overall terms.

I awoke feeling a bit strange... my breathing was really quite laboured and try as I might I couldnt slow down my breathing and catch my breath. I felt like i had when I had a chest infection in New Zealand... unable to complete a sentence without gasping for air. Being a nurse... with no adult training whatsoever... all kinds of weird and wonderful explanations arose. I woke Paul up with the words... I feel funny... I cant breathe properly. To be fair... he did look concerned even though he doesnt do mornings very well.
My phone has an app where you can check your saturations (amount of oxygen in your blood)... 94% ... so I wasnt dying. Better get up then.
I got out of the car and started walking towards the shower block... immediately I felt better and my breathing returned to normal. It was very strange indeed!

So because my breathing had normalised all the other aches and pains from the day 2 adventures seemed minor in comparison. The blisters... aching hamstrings... knees ... back.... the list goes on. It had been a hell of a walk.

The weather in the valley had completely closed in... it was lightly snowing and no mountains could be seen above the cloud.

Paul had survived his fall with nothing more than a slight bruise... a few scrapes and torn trousers but his list of aches and pains were as extensive as mine.

So given that... the weather... and the need for a slightly less adventurous day .. we decided to drive out of the weather and find a walk elsewhere. As we drove down the was a sign for Grächen... a place I had taken my step kids to quite a few years ago. In my head it had a few flattish walks. So we drove half way up the mountain and parked in exactly the same car park we had back then. The same gentleman came out for payment and he didnt look any older.

We set off up the path ... towards the chalet we had stayed. This path had stayed in my mind due to its extremely steep nature. 'It leads to a flat path at the top' I said to Paul.. hoping my memory served me correctly. I was sort of right but the path carried on up for a lot further than I remembered. We were walking up through recent snow and stopped to put on the crampon like grip things for our shoes. They certainly reduced the slipping and sliding somewhat.

We followed the path to Zum See... a small lake I remembered well. By now the skies above us had cleared a little... revealing the mountain tops to us whilst keeping them closed off to those down below. We were above the cloud line and way into the snow line. We followed the path to the lake... enjoying the bit of flat path. Our legs were now warmed up and the stiffness was beginning to wear off.
Therefore we decided to head up a little and followed signs to Seetlehorn.. a mountain I had climbed years ago. Given what we had encountered yesterday at a much lower level I knew Seetlehorn would be impassable... it was tricky enough in the dry with bright sunshine but we headed up gaining a few hundred feet in a very short space of time. We got to another flattish path ... the wasser weg or water walk. It wound its way through the forest... the smell of pine pervading everything.

Even at this lowish level.. well below 2500m .. the damage that the winter had done was very evident... and the clean-up process hadn't really begun here... meaning that we were regularly scrambling over fallen trees.

Given the experiences of the day before perhaps we should have taken the fallen trees as a sign re the path ahead. But even if we had ignored that... the sign posted on a tree... something about a bridge.. and impassable... should have stopped us. But we carried on.
It was a lovely path... some bits of snow with animal tracks in... some rocky bits to scramble over... but in the main.. flat. Along the way there were signs that (with my rudimentary German) seemed to be extolling the virtues of water... the sounds it makes and basically how you can get closer to the true meaning if nature...
A nice sentiment.

We passed an old avalanche chute... when Paul's eagle eyes spotted a family group of chamois on the rocks. I think it was the same place I had seen them all those years before. We stood there for a while watching them... they were unconcerned in this intrusion... presumably hugely confident that they could bound faster uphill than we could!

We continued on ... and came to a metal bridge. Now this bridge had been there for years but had seen better days. To say it looked precarious would be an understatement. The metal railings on the drop side were twisted and in some cases broken completely.
You go first said Paul
Cheers bro

So holding on to the intact side I inched across... not totally confident that it was truly anchored in place.
1/2 way across... Paul said
'Where are you going from there??'
Pointing to a gaping hole slightly beyond the end of the rickety bridge.
He had a point.
Where there had once been another bridge... and I can confirm that because I had stood on it years ago..
there was now a large gap with debris all around above and below. Clearly whatever had tumbled down had done so with enough force to take the bridge clean away!
Hmmmm

Unfortunately this meant i had to go back across the rickety bridge with paul standing safe at the other end.

Just as i reached him... he pointed out one of the bridge supports which had been twisted by some great force. Glad i hadnt seen that before going across.

So back we went... properly reading the sign this time... it did say impassable.

The views most of the time were blocked by the forest but at one point we were standing with a view of the top of the matterhorn... couldn't see the rest of it. Usually its the other way round!

We followed another forest route towards Niedergrächen and then curved back round to Grächen hitting the town at the bottom and therefore meaning another climb up back to the car.
Given that we had felt pretty broken the day before.. it was an all round reasonable effort.

We went back and immediately put the tent up... wisely determining that another night in the car would finish us off. Air beds blown up and then after a quick food trip.. back in the tent for an evening of cards...

Easy day tomorrow right bro!
Yup.. came the reply

Sunday, 13 May 2018

We didn't die... Therefore it was an adventure!


As we staggered back to the campsite... putting one weary painful foot in front of another.. Paul (my brother) made a strikingly accurate observation...
 today had just about everything...
Elation... disappointment... pain... suffering.. up ... and more up... scorching sunshine... gale force winds... pouring rain

But before I get into that... let me set the scene.
Me and Paul set off at 02:30 .. bound for the place that both of us long and love to return to. A normally chilled laid back guy.. Paul transforms in the mountains of Switzerland to a determined peak bagging... adventure seeking daredevil... or just someone for whom the line between CraZy and Life-threatening becomes occasionally blurry.

Neither of us had slept more than a couple of  hours... me in the day after my night and Paul after a long day at work... so somewhat tired we finally ended up at the campsite after a solid 19 hour travelling day.

Although Paul had stated that he was going to be grumpy... he actually proves a good travelling buddy so much so that when we got to the campsite and attempted to pitch up in the dark... rather than getting grumpy and cross with each other... we were close to rolling around on the ground in fits of laughter.

This laughter continued as we attempted to make ourselves comfortable in a tent with little protection from the cold hard ground. We sounded like we were 90! Ouch my hips... my knees... im too hot... too cold etc etc until eventually after all that... the tenth wind ran out and we conked out.

The forecast had been dreadful for this week and the rain fell regularly through the night but when i woke (cos my feet were ice blocks) I poked my head out to see bright blue sky and sunshine beating down in the valley. Unfortunately for Paul it was only 7:30 and so I spent the next hour badgering him to get up so we could pack up and set off for the Europaweg ... our intended mti day walk. Eventually after Paul had slowly stumbled up and gone for a shower... and returned to find he had conveniently missed the packing up... we hefted our rucksacks... tent and enough stuff for a couple of days and all eventualities onto our backs...
BLOODY HELL

They were HEAVY!

Still.. we had made a plan and we weren't going to go back on it now.
So we set of down the road ... walked to Tasch and jumped on the train to Zermatt (no cars allowed)
First stop information buro

We are going to walk the Europaweg I said to the lady behind the counter.

She opened her eyes wide and slowly shook her head...
Its shut... closed... impassable... too much snow... too dangerous... everything over 2000 meters is shut!
OH !! Plans disappeared faster than the avalanches had covered Zermatt this winter.

So what now??
We shook off the disappointment and decided to salvage the day... found a signpost and picked the longest walk on it... lets go

2 mins later... reality of Swiss walking  hit us squarely in the face... especially when neither of us had done much training recently...

1/2 way up the steep road .. still in Zermatt... it was time to sit down. My legs felt like lead and my heart and lungs were on fire...

We eventually reached the start of the path... many stops later... to see it winding its way up the mountainside and by winding I mean 45 degree slope up... steep sharp bend.... 45 degree slope up... steep sharp bend...
Add to that but I was dehydrating with every step. Prepared as we were for cold miserable weather... hot sunshine took us by surprise and the layers quickly came off. Unfortunately every time we stopped to take off a layer... we had to take off the 30Kilo rucksacks... stuff the layer in... and then heave it back on again. It was exhausting.
My legs were not playing ball and the stops were frequent.
All the stops did mean that we took in the views which were stunning and we did see the matterhorn in all its glory... clear of cloud (very unusual!). In the time I had taken out my camera... the cloud was almost back over it again... but still!

Any people we met... were going down... having taken the sensible option of train up.. walk down. Of course we had dome it the hard way.  It was excruciating at points... foot in front of the other... achilles screaming... hamstrings tweaking... knees groaning. It was almost like the re route again! (See my documentary!!)

As we crawled straight up the mountainside and time ticked on... plans began to change! Its only day 1... lets not totally break!  Train down became the new plan... just as soon as we could find the station.

After another interminable series of up and bend and with a few 'steps' thrown in we finally reached the station.
With Swiss timing precision we were on a train down within minutes... droppng back down the 2000ft that we had gained in just over 3 miles.  All that climbing with 30 kilo rucksacks... no wonder it had hurt!! Given the fact that everyone else we had seen was walking down and with only daysacks... i think we actually did rather well!

Once back in Zermatt... frankly we just collapsed into a pizza restaurant! But another plan was forming as we rested our aching bodies... why not walk from Zermatt back to our campsite further down the valley. It would be mainly down we reasoned and although the sun had disappeared behind the clouds... it was still warm and reasonable.
So that became our new plan and we headed down the road.
There must be a path off the road we reasoned and sure enough... up to the left climbed a path.
Up again!
A part of the path as it levelled out was covered in snow and avalanche debris.. fallen trees and the like and maybe this should have given us a clue... but it didnt... or at least we ignored it... clambered and slid part of the way down the snowslope (in a controlled manner) before picking up the path on the other side.

The path undulated nicely... not too much steep up or down and above the train tracks... it was a good path...

Well until we got to a few fallen trees blocking the way... and by a few... I mean a lot! Off came the rucksacs and we clambered and ducked under and over.... then through more and tighter spaces. Paul reccied ahead...

Yeah its doable... just

So we clambered and scrambled a bit more and came to a dense patch of trees.... forced our way through... and found the path once again.
Search for the Pink Alpine Elephant complete! (That's where we go off piste on a 'path' that probbly isnt a path... get a bit lost ... scratched... banged up... only to find that the path was near us the entire time!)

We still didnt take this as a clue and continued on... the path carried us on top of the railway tunnels and snaked along the mountain side.

The avalanche chutes were still full of snow... hovering precariously...melt tricking from the underside of the snow packs... and there we were jaunting underneath. The path was often covered by the snow and alternate routes were found... occasionally by sticking our hands deep into the snow as holds and tiptoeing on the edge across....

Fun... yes... slightly risky... yes.... still alive...yes
Then its an adventure!

The next chute we came too blocked the path so completely that we backtracked slightly to find a part of the slope to scramble down... we picked our spot and clutching roots and boulders inched our way down... I was in front and watching my steps... when I heard a crash and rocks falling and turned round to find Paul .. on his back... head downslope ... grind to a halt just next to me...

OUCH... he said in a typical paul understated manner. I could see a gash in his trousers and wondered aloud if his leg was broken...
Dont think so....
Can you wait bear?
We will see!

He clambered to his feet... put his weight on his leg... and found it didnt buckle...
No break...

No head injury either as he had managed to twist as he fell so the rucksack took the brunt.

Thats one way to get down the slope!

I dont mind if its me... but it scared the shit out of me that paul might have done some real damage... so as we wondered over to the snowpack we were trying to get round... paul went up and peered at the waterfall coming off the edge and tumbling down the mountainside.

Its doable... he said!

Apparently there was a (only slightly wet) path wide ledge that we could cross over and then scramble up the rocks on the other side....

Errrr nope!
No No No

I admit that if by myself I might have done... maybe... but my big sister responsibility kicked in and there was no way I was going to let him try it. He had already gone down once and this was a worse potential one!

Its doable... he kept repeating...

Mainly i think cos we were fairly close to Tasch and therefore not far from our campsite and to turn back now meant a walk back up the path... back over the avalanch chutes we had crossed and back through the fallen trees...

Gutting

Reluctantly we turned back
As we did so suddenly the wind picked up significantly..
Catching our large heavy rucksacks and making it hard to stay upright... then the wind died away again... but only because the clouds were tumbling over the mountaintops and began to unleash a multitude of water!

We started walking again and Paul suddenly rememvered a bridge across the ravine to the road... yup... there it was... but can we get to it! A little further on... having the advantage of a different viewpoint... Paul noticed a wooden ramp ... down the edge of the train tunnel. We leaned over...
There was another path!
Could this be the path to the bridge... was this the way we had supposed to have gone??
We followed the ramp down to the path and despair turned to elation as we realised that this path was our salvation from having to walk back the way we came.
We hotfooted it over and stood... victoriously on the road. Now it was just a short hop down to Tasch and then a little further to the campsite!

The rain however didnt want to give us too much time to celebrate and it began bucketing it down. Add to that ... after all the exertions... entire body ache had taken over and so the walk... which should have been a stroll... turned into a nightmare of each body part taking turns to complain. It was not pretty... but with one foot in front of the other... we made it... threw the rucksacks down... and crawled to the restaurant for hot chocolate (me) and beer (paul)

Mistake....
Siezed up!

We sat in the car to warm up and dry off.

Thats enough talking for today sis
Yup... I wholeheartedly agree!

So as i write this blog... its still raining and neither of us have the will... or the muscle power to get up and re-pitch the tent!

What a day!

Was it painful?
Yes!
Was it scary?
At times .. yes!
Did you die?
Nope

Then it was an Adventure!






Saturday, 30 December 2017

Out with the old... In with the New


2018 is fast approaching and in just a few days it will be the start of another year. It is often used as a catalyst for many people to start something new, change something in their lives, shed unwanted stuff, start a new exercise schedule. I generally eschew such 'new beginnings' arguing that you dont have to wait until a new year to begin again. As someone who has thrown out a life and started again from scratch a couple of times I know that change doesnt have to happen at the beginning of a year with a resolution. 

So instead I am hoping to end the year with a kick start to the new. And that opportunity was provided in the form of an old friend. Jamie had decided to end his year with participation in a 500k challenge, braving the wind rain and cold over a week to complete the prescribed distance. When he messaged me asking if I would like to join in for a days ride, I jumped at the chance. Yes, it would have to ne done at the end of a night shift... but isnt that how my life often rolls? 

Deciding to introduce Jamie to the ups and downs of The Downs, I went on Ride With GPS and traced a route for upload to my Garmin Etrex 30x without thought for elevation profiles. I ended up with a 43 mile route around the area I now live. The only bit I knew was the hill called White Hill which I remembered from a ride many years ago. 

Weather... well hasnt it been 'interesting' over the last few months. The morning was no different. As I glanced out of the window at the end of my shift, the rain and wind were battering the glass. Whose idea was this?
Fortunately by the time I arrived home the rain had subsided though it was still pretty cold. Jamie arrived and with freshly pumped tyres and oil on my chain we set off and in a few minutes were out in the country, amidst the fields, exposed to the wind. Rain was still falling though not with the ferocity that it had earlier.
My main worry was keeping up with Jamie as my legs were unpracticed over the last few months and he had clearly been powering through the last few days.

The hills did not disappoint... hitting my legs with force from the outset. They loomed ahead on the road filling me with dread anticipation... but I did as I always do... slip into a low gear and tap my way up.... 
Uphill is often followed by downhill and the wind whistling past me filled me with delight and heightened the senses to avoid the inevitable potholes and the littany of sticks and muck than had been scattered on the road from all the bad weather. 
White Hill... was as bad as I remembered in it... but oh what a view from the top... stretching out across the downs. To the right a bridleway.. filled with promise for another day and a fatter wheeled bike. Occasionally a familiar road popped across our path as I was reminded of other rides... other lost lanes. Through the small villages that littered the route and past houses that I can only dream of... the legs kept turning... defying the sloth of the last few months.

20 miles came and went and the legs felt ok... a wrong turning and a different 'path' than the planned one introducing Jamie to The Search for the Pink Alpine Elephant. A dead end and another detour led to more hills... if it doesnt go up... its  not the right way!

A short stop at a pub for a coffee... ignoring the stares of well-heeled residents at the lycra and mud splattered faces... they dont realise what they are missing...

The circle continues and the wind has brought down the ambient temperature. Numb toes sit in wet socks... still pushing down on the pedals... the road still climbing up and down dale ... testing muscles not recently tested.

The Gate photo... a must on a ride...
Rule #5 discussed and adhered to...

More familiar roads... and 1 final detour... 43 miles done and legs that feel it.

Kick start !




Thursday, 5 October 2017

Marchin' not Fightin'... Peace now...Peace today



The start of The Alarm tour marked the start of 2 months of being on the road... swabbing people for the bone marrow donor list. It also hopefully marks the point where I drag myself out of a slight malaise and lethargy that I have found myself since leaving the open space of the Tour Divide trails. 
And what better way to start dragging myself out than swooshing round the trails of Sherwood forest.

In order to make the timings work ... I had to get up at 04:30... pack the car with bike and swabbing kit and be on the road by 6am. It is testament to my love of cycling that I managed to leave by half six and wend my way northwards. 

The forest... when I arrived ... was pretty quiet... save from a couple of dog walkers and a MAMIL. 
For those of you who think Im talking about a small furry creature.... a MAMIL is an acronym for a Middle Aged Man In Lycra. I didnt coin this phrase but this particular MAMIL was somewhat downcast ... standing by a bike with a flat back tyre. 
His wife came to pick him up.

I set out for a warm up on the green/blue trail... easy / moderate ... it actually is pretty hard work... with a lot of climbing a little reward... at least from a trail point of view. The reward was in the golden leaves and ferns amidst the greenery and the fresh warm enough air. In fact I was soon sweating and my legs (LLFF Score = 5) were being reasonable. I revelled in being out again and these trails asserted themselves to try and help me regain the fun factor in this country.

Then onto the red trail... each section with a name, invoking WW1 in their descriptions. Sniper Alley, Dog Soldiers, Western Front and Marchin' not Fightin' ... which I will come back to shortly. 

A quick check in to a hotel and securing my bike there and then off to the first gig of The Alarm tour with the release of the new album, Viral Black... a much anticipated second half to Blood Red, which I think is one of the best Albums MP (Mike Peters) has ever written. Viral Black  had something to live up to!

We signed up plenty of people to potentially Save A Life and the gig was full of life and energy and inspiration.

Fast forward to today... on little sleep I arrived once again at the forest with a few hours to whizz round the red trail again. I had time to contemplate and as I passed 'Marchin' not Fightin' something struck me....
The parallels between the section name and a theme running through the gig were jumping out at me. Names taken from a War 100 years ago and songs from Mike Peters today suddenly collided... Cenataph... Hellfire... Peace Now ... 
Mike Peters has never seemed so relevant... so incisive.. at least to me. 

And as I pushed myself round the tracks... I thought about MP and Jules... Mike, jumping around the stage like a man posessed ... the energy leaping off the stage and infusing everyone... but no one more than me possibly. He is still being treated for Cancer... and it is so easy to forget watching him.. Jules... facing Cancer with more determination than almost anyone I have seen...
Add the words Mike sings....taking  hold
And in the forest I find I have no excuses for being weak or lazy or slow.

The sunlight rays streaked through the trees... making the leaves burn golden as if fire had taken hold. Lightening my soul as it it found Peace today. With no bears... the squirrels did their best to scare the shit out of me by hurling themselves near my wheels as I thundered past... through the mud and over rocks and roots... at times barely holding onto the bike. ... 

The gig... the ride... the music... combine

Letting light back into my life.