How the Garmin Edge 800 allows you to focus on the cycling

My Garmin Edge 800 nicknamed 'beauty'.

My Garmin Edge 800 nicknamed ‘beauty’.

After the Transcontinental Bike Race at the start of this month, and my inevitable conclusion in a Greek hospital (see previous post for details), I went about taking a stock check on how I could improve and what equipment should stay in the kit list.

There is certainly a balance between comfort & weight, and any kit that allows you to just get on with just the cycling is at the very top. The Garmin Edge 800 is part of this kit that just allows your mind to wonder and get focused on just the cycling – or should I say just moving the pedals round! I had countless night rides where I had been going on 17-18hours and all I wanted to do was lay down, certainly have a warm shower anyway. But I had to keep going and the gleaming light of the device on my handbars was a very reassuring sight when I was in the middle of rural France or Italy. After 18 hours riding (and on top of that, we are looking at 5, 6, 7 days on the trot) your mind is putty and all you want is to be told which way to go – certainly I negiotated with my body that as long as it kept moving the Garmin Edge 800 would handle the rest. And so, the device which I nicknamed beauty – my SPOT tracker was named Ruby, it was a weird relationship in those early hours – was the ONLY thing that convinced me to keep moving when all I wanted to do was go to bed. The problem is when you get tired you start to doubt directions and the Garmin Edge 800 removes this.

What I must stress is the Garmin Edge 800 should form part of your route planning. It should be complimented with some background reading on the terrain, brief notes or flashcards on the major towns you will be passing, and perhaps some of the main roads to look out for. Unfortunately this is something I learnt the hard way in Albania. The Garmin will know every road you can possibly imagine, certainly the roads going east from the Albania capital Tirane are there, its just some authorities mark them as good roads, while perhaps they are not. This is not a drawback on the Garmin – after all it can point you (and very accurately, I mean it pinpointed me to metres in rural Albania) on the roads that exist, and in my case the shortest possible way to Greece, it is just very difficult to get a picture of the road conditions etc.

I think really what summed up my feelings for the Garmin Edge 800 was the time I entered Ancona on the Italian coast. All day I had just went south along the coast road, with the sea on my left and no need for a map, GPS or anything. Enter a big town and all you get is signs on to the major highways south, panic sets in and finding a way round becomes a daunting 2 hour task, with all your hard work of the last 9 hours being laid to waste. On that occasion I had let the battery run dry – stupidly I didn’t have a dynamo with the bike and the Garmin’s battery, whilst easily lasting a few days ride with lengthly directions, of course does need to recharge at some point – and I paid for it. Don’t relie on asking the 1 out of 6 strangers who know the road out other than the major motorway, get that Garmin Edge 800. Kepp it charged. And keep moving forward.

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How I almost made it to Istanbul….Tackling Europe’s toughest, solo bike race

It was nice having some weight when I started!

It was nice having some weight when I started![More pictures coming up, no USB connection at terminal]

Well that was one crazy trip and now I am into my trip across Asia. So while I wait for my train to Lviv in Ukraine, I am going to pick my head and try to remember the details of those crazy two weeks.

As many of you may know, I was struck down by food poisoning tanstalisingly close to the finish (NE Greece) but certainly I will remember a lot more from the trip than the ‘result’. I also hope that the sheer experiences of cycling the distances involved everyday will bring me closer to pro cycling and the industry as a whole. i certainluy hope to engage with cycling clubs when I settle in my new job in Singapore. I also want to use this blog to express my thanks to all those that helped me along the way – including my father, girlfriend, family & friends and all those called upon at late notice to help out – for example my bike is currently being shipped back to Ireland by some very kind family friends. Thank you.

And finally, and very importantly, I wanted to express my thanks to those people who donated to my charities – the WWF and Injured Rugby Players Foundation –http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth1 &  http://www.justgiving.com/Nicholas-Longworth2 respectively. Two fantastic causes and I hope this account justifies your time and donations. Thank you.

There seems to be a few holes in this account – How keeping an accurate record was difficult

As I soon found out, keeping a record of the journey is quite frankly very hard. This was a race after all, 2200 or so miles that you are going flat out. You stop to take pictures, that speed average that you just spent the last 3 hours doing in the midday sun is down. That being said lets not be a Nazi about it. The ‘main’ reason for little camcorder footage (I think I have some from the first day or two) is that I didn’t have a dynamo (electricity generator on the bike) so every power point was for the GPS or the emergency battery – and when you are camping in the woods for 2-3 nights in a row, that 30minutes getting refuelled in a cafe to escape the sun or getting a free shower in a friendly hotel goes straight to the GPS!

Why the Garmin Edge 800 should be always be an important part of your kit and so is having a route plan

Going to put a follow up article on this but as you will see from the trip review, when you dont have the Garmin GPS as your buddy, assistant, these trips can be filled with panic and ultimately that uses up energy and distracts focus from covering the day’s distance. The Garmin is a wonderful back up to a planned route – i.e. you know the kind of terrain in an area, the main towns, cities. Like every tool in the adventure inbox ultimately every piece of kit compliments or aids another, the GPS is part of your map reading and route planning, a very vital part. It will keep you off very busy roads and will allow for progress even when in pitch black darkness – I had several occasions when 17hrs into a days ride all I wanted was that left or right on the GPS so I didn’t have to ‘THINK’ about directions. But get to know your GPS, I made mistakes because I didn’t use the device to its full advantage and regrettably I only got in the flow later in the race. In addition to the GPS, if you are using it for hours after hours (and the device can last all night) is get a dynamo to charge it. Like all devices it needs to be powered and it can give you the best short cut in the world – missing out big towns etc, just make sure you can keep up with its power demands – don’t worry about the GPS, it will know all the roads you can ever imagine. Very accurate, and got me out of very sticky situations.

Day one

Press commitments first on the bridge at Westminister, 31 or so riders eagerly anticipating the start of the toughest solo bike race in Europe. It was tremendously exciting and thanks to some dear friends I was not tired from last minute planning (I took myself off to bed while they put together final maps etc, thank you again!), I couldn’t wait.

Day one turned very much into team racing, ie. everyone was going to the same checkpoint in Geraardsburgen in Belgium (where all the cobbles are for the Tour of Flanders) and so we found ‘sharing’ resources, maps, drafting etc seemed to come into play. I certainly enjoyed setting a pace in northern France and Belgium – logistics is not my strong point but I love killing myself on the bike!

The route down to Folkstone was fairly straight forward, heading towards Ashford and on. In the heat of the moment, you do see different riders take different courses and ultimately a particularly route may shave 20 minutes off etc. Certainly I found myself on some great country roads coming down from the A2 towards Maidstone, which may have been a great ride but heading down towards Faversham may have been best. Still I was on an ok time and was heading for the 2pm ferry in good time (the ferry departure times that people reached were 12pm (they had definitely practiced the route and were fast(, 2pm, 4pm). Ok start. 4miles from Dover, I got 3 punctures – 1 of which had been my own fault with a rushed inner tube fix. A stop in Halfords meant it was the 4pm for me. Still I meet some great riders, a former pro called David I recall and a member of one of only 4 teams (of 2) that had finished the race across America in the time limit. So not too bad considering.

I had been advised to take the ferry over to Dunkirk rather than Calais, shaving 30miles off and about a dozen of us set out at different paces from the port. At this stage I was still getting to grips with the Garmin GPS and my original route had been from Calais (what I later discovered was the best way to utilise the device was to just find the best way to a particular location rather than set route). The roads were magnificant and we set a hard pace – 38kph average – which as my legs later got stronger was peanuts to the 42+kph I was setting with pros down the Italian coast.

With 3 other riders we tackled the maze of routes from Oudenaarde towards Geraardsbergen and landed at the checkpoint at about 1am…..tragically as I found out when we reached the arranged hostel, those few hours from the ferry and confusion through Belgium made a huge difference in this race, as riders were setting out for day 2 as we arrived.

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Checkpoint one and exhausted

Day two

Disaster. This was my first real test in doing big mileage day after day with little sleep so I just went into auto pilot as I set out at 6:30am or so the next morning. Got my route up on the GPS – after all it was set out from the first checkpoint – and off I went…..little did I realise that I had stupidly – and this bugs me to the day – brought it up in the wrong direction. It was only when I started focusing on my compass that I found that I had been going 2 hours NORTH!!! In a little bit of a panic at this stage I passed back past Geraardsburgen 4 hours later and heading east to Brussels, plenty of signs and well we had to go east, right? It was on the edge of Brussels though that the GPS really came back in its element. I stopped and calmed myself for a few minutes as I struggled to find a decent route south out of the city. I entered in south to Freiburg on the device and behold the route was there – A route which I must add I had past about 20minutes before, which consisted of quite a busy road (but only for 2 miles or so) and which I had dismissed because well frankly I didn’t want to be stuck on that busy road for 50-70 miles, not around a busy city anyway. But the GPS got me on the right track and I made my way down to Huy – wonderful town around a river. I was thinking of heading out through the night but my mind was fried and I was in no mood (or brave enough) to take on the dark country roads. Certainly that is an element of the race I struggled with throughout the two weeks – to make ‘real’ time and distance, you cant stop for 4-5 hours at night and you have to treat the night’s riding like the day. As the race went on, I made a semi rule of cycling til about midnight or around that time when I found a suitable bed, and then setting out at first light. About 18hours cycling – 300km or so (depending) – that became the goal – and certainly as the days came one after another, it was this short term goal that kept me focused.

Day three

So I had my first dose of camping out in my emergency foil tent and blanket that night, and well it isn’t too bad apart from the very quick movement in the morning to heat the body up! At this stage the memory gets a bit fuzzy, the rest of the pack were about 70-80-100miles in front of me and I had made a pitiful effort (in terms of distance) on day two. This was really when I decided to pick up the race at the scruff of the neck and stop worrying about cameras or notes or photos…..I had to go all out.

The GPS lead me down towards Luxemburg City – in passing Luxemburg and southern Belgium are not flat (of course nothing to what comes later) but after the easy going coast road on day one, this told me the real cycling was just getting started.

To be honest, trying to recall were I crashed that night is proving very difficult but I followed a German cycling group toward Metz in France….and then heading out towards Strasbourg……I really was going flat out…..

Day four

This was the first taste of hills and mountains. I wanted to cross over the hills around Munster – towards Strasbourg and Freiburg – as it was meant to be stunning. I wasn’t disappointed. Solid ride into the early afternoon and I meet the Rhein canal at Erstein I believe. This was where I could pick up some distance and the flat canal lead me down towards Basel in Switzerland – had to chat to quite a few German campers to get restocked with fresh water – I would have killed for a cafe to just collect my thoughts and get rehydrated – but nevertheless, even after the easy going canal cycle path seem to have stopped at about Marckolsheim, I stopped on the German side of the border at Neuenburg am Rhein to get some food at a garage and recharge the GPS. Tell you what it all seems so casual when you are reading from Google Maps – you really earn each mile when you are out there!!

My happy face after a tough morning ride

My happy face after a tough morning ride

Until about 1am-2am that night I made my way around Basel – through Weil am Rhein I believe – and got on the ‘3’ road towards Zurich. Thunderstorms lit up the nights sky and I dived for cover in a office complex courtyard. No point getting soaked right and got my head down for a few hours. In all this rush though and with the memory of the hot day I didn’t anticipate the drop in temperature. After a quick warm up in a lift! that next morning I set out for day 5 towards Zurich.

Day five

I must admit by this stage I felt absolutely disgusting, after camping out for 3 nights in a row with only one dry kit. Luckily that morning I had convinced a hotel to let me use a shower and get breakfast, and so after a few days camped out, I felt refreshed and ready to go down towards checkpoint two in the Alps.

On the road to Zurich I joined a Swiss triathlete for a hour or two and although the pace slowed it was nice to get some real company. I circled Zurich and made my way towards St Gallen. At this stage the GPS had died but I knew roughly the route and was quite confident with my compass reading! Without following the main roads, things get a little tricky in this area, with the changes in altitude of the road meaning that you often had to go back on yourselves to go the right way. Past Rapperswil I joined a cycle path down towards the Walensee – the scenery around here is absolutely spectular, you should look into it! Unfortunately for me but although Google maps make the route obvious, I followed the cycle path on the north side of Walensee and it ended. An annoying detour but for an afternoon cycle it was fantastic viewing. Back to the race…..it did occur to me the opportunity to ask for a lift on a yacht across to the south side but to avoid the lengthly negiotations involved, I decided to head back and crossed over at Weesen. Some very weird cycle routes this side, which has mind blogging gradient – some must have been 20-25%. I did meet a great Czech character with Bon Jovi playing loading on an electric assisted bike – I post a picture when I get a chance, I think he had a cowboy hat on in fact.

Got to love Bon Jovi

Got to love Bon Jovi

Avoiding the main roads and intimated by getting lost up some high mountain roads – lots of effort to come back down – I found myself stopped in a German bar/old hostel for the night. Can’t believe I lost the bar’s card, but this place was in about Saas im Prattigau along the main 28 road south. Two great Swiss guys – or should I say one, the owner, the other guy was pissed as a fart and kept joking with me in German – shared a beer with me in this quiet village alongside the now, mad, dangerous 28 night road.

Day six

So as much as I had hoped, I didn’t reach the Stelvio Pass the day before. A former Italian pro cyclist – who had been in the Tour of Britain in 1969 apparently – had told me I wouldn’t make it and he was right….regrettably. Being stuck up a mountain at night with limited kit was not my idea of fun but unfortunately in my lovely abandoned hostel accommodation in Saas im Prattigau I overslept my alarm – well I think I whacked it off the bunkbed, and was woking by the owner and his Russian yet English speaking wife for breakfast, along with a couple who were guests at the hotel. After a small breakfast – I found it had to eat very large amounts at this point, being use to snacking for almost a week now – I heading towards the toughest day I had ever had on the bike. The Stelvio Pass – which is the second highest paved road in the Alps, by like 13 metres, wasn’t the only challenge of the day, as the every increasingly bad weather made the 2 or 3 mountain 2000m passes a real challenge. With no real energy in the legs this far in and little chance to recharge the batteries, or even settle down to some food, the Ofenpass and most notably the previous Fluela Pass was beastly. Having the wind in your face didn’t help. I caught up with two other riders up the mountains and we shared a few stories over some warm food and tea in Zernez (I believe).

On the Stelvio Pass, we entered Santa Maria, me just a head of the other two with an early start from lunch. Regrettably I should have reloaded my fuel supply in the town because the 2000metre climb just keeps going. The gradient isn’t anything nasty but I bonked several times up there. Fortunately I had some generous car drivers – one group that even got food from the top and brought it back – that keep my head straight til about 1300metres from the top. I was spent and just as the clock turned 9pm I walked the last 1500metres or so, with several attempts to balance myself on the bike however the head was absolutely spinning, to the top. After a quick look for the checpoint crew – I should have come up another side of the mountain I am told, I ‘collasped’ into the mountain top hotel – mind you shared some stories with quite a few tourists at the top. Mission accomplished.

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

The mountain tops on Stelvio pass

Day seven

I understand I had made some good time on the other riders who had just got down the mountain the night before. Unfortunately the quick descent meant that I waited until first light to go down the mountain towards Bormio. Absolutely freezing and certainly had to keep your wits about you but it was fantastic coming down right from the top of the Alps. It seems most riders went down via Meran and towards Trento…which in hindsight would have been best. At the time I was concentrating on getting down south asap. I needed to get down to Bari in Southern Italy as quickly as possible and I knew that this gamble down through the Adriatic Italian coast could make up time on the riders heading into Slovenia. Unfortunately the mountain ranges lay in such a way that you head down to Sondrio, along lake Como and as my GPS dictated up a small mountain climb around Lecco. The aim was just to get south and slowly head back Southeast as I got to the flat plains around the plain of Lombardy. As night flew, just as I had done in Southern France – it is coming back to me now – I just focused on the Garmin beeps – left, right, straight ahead. When my back bike light failed around Cremona I decided it would be stupid and dangerous to keep going on the fast roads. I arrived at a casino/whiskey tavern in the middle of nowhere and these 3 barmaids – the poor girls had no idea what to make of this figure that had just come out of the darkest – made me up a bed in the outside Gezbo. The whole trip was a collection of favours – which I am incredibly grateful for – early that night in fact I had had my back light replaced by a group of Italian guys in the pub, but unfortunately that two failed or in fact I think it got broken as I put my bike down exhausted at about midnight!!

Day eight

Phew this was a long trip. Day eight started with a bit of difficulty as I spent about 1 1/2 hours trying to wake the bar owners for what I thought was a charging GPS – the bar power socket must have been switched off as the GPS cut out a hour or two later – damn it! A mistake that at least I like to say can be easily done, well when you are manically trying to catch up to the 6-7 place guys. By this stage the winner had already gone through the finish line – machine – and it was all about a decent effort. With a unenergized GPS I headed toward the southeast city with the most road signs – Bologna. Even looking at the map, the details of the day are hazily, but after some epic lightening I hid out in a hotel about 20km outside of Bologna for 35euros – with breakfast! It was mega.

Day nine

So I admit the body was pretty beaten by this stage and I slept in til about 8am. I knew I had to stick my finger out and loaded up with a big breakfast, round after round of bread and salami, and set out for the coast road. I had aimed for Rimini the previous day and directions proved to be epically simple, with a course set via Ravenna, Cervia and Cesenatico.

Apart from a nasty hill side in Ancona, the ride down was fast and flat. I meet numerous Italian cyclists on the way down, one particular guy I called the Ferrari, with legs like tree trunks, basically like Chris Hoy. Certainly he didn’t look out of place next to the Olympic German cycling team that I had chased around Sondiro in northern Italy. I also meet a English couple near Senigallia while asking for directions at a petrol station. It was funny but I feasted on that couple of minutes of conversation after all the communication fustrastions of the last few days. Coming out of Ancona is a bit of hurdle and I am positive I went up one hill road twice – trust me as a cyclist you learn very quickly that most people know the way out of town through a highway but not something for our two wheeled hobby. As much as I was pushing for a 20+ hour cycle I knew the eyes were getting heavy now – the legs are your solid base, they aren’t the thing that fails on you! – and even with a massive pizza and double expressos in Civitanova I knew I needed just a few hours kip. By this stage I was on the busy coast road – busy with tourists mind you and a quiet spot to camp was just not an option. Plus I knew that to get to Bari in 24hours I would need to revive under a warm shower. At about Pedaso I found a campsite, who’s owner, a nice young guy who sat me down for a beer before bed in fact, let me camp inside the compound. No new blankets but at least no worry of passing traffic or drunken tourists!

Day ten

My internet access for the whole trip had been limited to some friendly bike shop owners, a few cycling teams in cafe’s with smartphones or as I hope was sent – the campsite the previous night sending emails on my behalf. Anyway, I recall at this stage I knew that the 3 riders going down Italy would be approaching Bari that day and I hoped that if I could make good time/great distance they would be caught up in the ferry terminal, and not only could I catch them if I was lucky but with the distance covered while I slept on the ferry, maybe catching up with some of the higher placed riders.

Going down to Termoli was easy, in fact I remembered cycling with a Italian Superbike Rider to Pescara. As the road bends in towards San Severo and ultimately Foggia thats when confidence gets a bit weak – after all hugging the coast for 36hours made you think this was easy. A recharged GPS that evening got me off the truck filled roads around Foggia but with no light and tackling D class roads progress was slow. These D class roads, although silent also twist and turn, taking hours to go the 50km I just pulled out in an hour & half from Lesina to Foggia – bike times and distances go out of the window a bit after this length of time on a non-stop trip with kit (at least if you are not with the leaders) but it is amazing how satisfied you get after doing a good 50km. Sad really.

I settled down for a night’s sleep under the stars, and bonus this time it was on a lovely grass blanket, its the little things.

Day Eleven

I was now aiming for a ferry whos departure time I didn’t know – after all the Italian job was an idea only a few days old – would have been nice to do SOME research before hand!

By Corato or was it Bitonto, I crawled into a small ball outside of a Lidl, trying to recharge the batteries on milkshake, flapjacks, coke, orange juice, etc etc. As good as the flexibility of ‘wild’ camping is, when you get up and do 2-3 hours of riding before breakfast, the crash is pretty awful. Finally though Bari. Job done……now a 12 hour wait damn it! I must admit, my options were zero now, I had to wait for the ferry and two pizzas and several beers & cokes into the ‘fuelling’ in the port I didn’t care. Also internet was a major priority, with a SPOT tracker that had failed in Switzerland – I am now told it was the batteries, even though I got them checked coming down the mountain in Italy – no-one knew where I was for 48hours. Some kind American tourists negiotated with probably the best hotel in Bari – Palace Hotel I recall – to let a smelly cyclist use the internet. Thank you.

Day Twelve

There was no favours on the ferry and the crew offered me only a full cabin – with 4 beds – for a full price of 110euros. I found a couch in the crowded lounge which was closely guarded by my new Albanian friend – who I thanked with beer.

We arrived into Durres at about 8am…..as I am finding out now with my trains across Eastern Europe this could be an end to my on time public transport! In the GPS it was 166miles to Thessaloniki. 3 days and I am in Istanbul I thought. The nerves were high setting out in Albania but I soon found that apart from some mad over taking coming towards me the drivers were pretty good in giving me room. I was quickly through Tirana (the capital) and into the Dajti Mountain National Park. The route on my GPS was southeast over the mountains and down into Greece. Now with a full stomach no problem. As I look at Google maps now, the roads stop at Bize…..I kept going……was a new route through Italy and Albania such a good idea I know thought? Then real trouble happened. Bike tyre got shredded 4hours up this mountain and my cleats got wrecked walking the 5hours down the other side – keep moving the right way I thought. Reaching a bar as the sky got dark I knew at least I had accommodation for the night but the bike was a problem. A hole has been ripped in the rudder and no matter how many times I changed the inner tube, it was puncture, puncture, puncture. Needed new tyre I thought. As much as I wanted to get down to Librazhd about 20km away, I was informed that to get my bike and now my cleats in order I would have to go back to Tirana. And with that it all happened in a flash I got a lift from a friendly driver in the bar and 5-6 hours later I was having dinner with his family in Tirana. Surreal.

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Hill top roads in Albania, a taste of things to come

Day thirteen

Through the newly studied english of their daughter I informed them I had to set off early in the morning in search of an internet cafe to locate a bike shop. Even with an internet cafe found a bike shop was looking bleak but some young lad joined me from the cafe and took me on a bus through the city to find this elusive cycling mecca. With a few visits here and there and some detours for working ATM machines I found myself in a bike shop owned by an Albanian who had lived in Islington, London – even had a London accent. Very helpful guy and even with two orders for the ‘specialized’ bike cleats as I set out from Tirana at lunchtime they just wouldn’t fit in normal riding – I was push power only now. As recommended I headed south the Elbasan and Korce, stopping in a hotel just shy of the Greek border at Krystallopigi. Hard ride, as shown by all the mountain shadows on Google maps, but at least I was at Greece, maybe I could make the cut off in 48hours or at least be in touching distance.

Day fourteen

In the hot Greek sun it felt like I went over every mountain in the north. Through Krystallopigi to Kastoria was a wonderful ride, absolutely flew down the mountain passes at 40+kph average – bear warnings everywhere so you can imagine the kind of untouched scenery. The one thing on my mind was food – I really was struggling after no proper food since the late afternoon before, and once again I recuperated outside of a Lidl on the Kastoria lake peninsula. With the chuckle of some helpful direction givers (I had got used to people thinking cycling across Europe at that speed was stupid), I headed towards Kozani, making every effort to stay close to the path of the main highway through side roads or service routes. Direct line I thought. At Polimilos (coming up to Veroia) there is a monster of a hill that just keeps going – I swore I wouldn’t do anymore hills! – but the 4 road was relentless, up and up. But like every hill there is a reward and for the next 20km I sat on my pedals and flex down towards Veroia, pedalling when only essential!

And then we had Veroia. And that sandwich. I resupplied in the town, ready to take on the route to Thessaloniki and a bit further down the Greek coast. Replenished I made my way through Alexandria and into the busy Thessaloniki city – I had after all not been in a busy environment since the Italian coast – well tourist environment anyway! The plan was to keep going through the city and after a missed turn on to the ‘2’ route, keep heading east on the ’16’ towards Galatista and then back on the 2.

Day fifteen

Game over. You know you are beat when you and your body doesn’t care what race you had been in for 14 days. Ultimately I found out that I had bad food poisoning in the hospital. That morning at 5-6am I had searched out a hotel to recoup for 24hours but failing that an airforce base called an ambulance. Apparently it was pretty nasty so probably for the best! Although the worst was gone after 7 hours, I had to resign to the fact that my race was done and 48hours later I shipped my bike back to Ireland – via a very kind friend of a friend.

I now set off to Singapore on an overland train journey. Soon after I left hospital I jumped on a bus to Sofia – still in some smelly cycling clothes – then from Sofia the following night to Belgrade and now I sit in front of computer in Budapest. Right time to get myself in order for the train towards Kiev. I’ll try to get the few photos I have up asap! I will also put together an article on top tips, where you can go wrong on a trip like this and I would like to put something together on the winners/leaders races.

Ultimately this trip is more than just cycling. All the riders could do 300-350km a day, granted the 400-450-500km is tricky to say the least. Getting lost and having problems not only uses up time but knocks your confidence and uses up valuable energy – even if it ‘just’ makes you feel tired. After this trip I know I had a 12, perhaps even 11 day cycle to Istanbul in me but, and I am not trying to make excuses because ALL riders had problems and that is a fact of life about the race – it is WHY it is so challenging – I messed up quite a lot. I hope to take this knowledge on how I felt on some big rides, the determination of staying focused for 18hours or so, forward and perhaps join some cycling teams in Singapore. For now I am trying to get my weight back on and I am not going to take future plans too seriously until I reach my Asia destination – after all I will be sitting on trains and buses for 6 more weeks.

There will be new adventures though. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

Final advice from a good friend and ‘life coach’ for Transcontinental Bike Race

So things are going to get a bit mental before the start at 8am on Saturday – about 41 hours away – but I thought I would pay a little tribute to a friend of mine who has brought me to the start line. He knows who he is. I thought I would quote some of the final words of advice he had – I mean seriously this guy could get paid to do this (oh and I thought I would include a video on what I will be feeling for the trip from the power of youtube). He’ll kick my ass when he finds this up here:

‘You MUST stay focused on this.  You will be broken and want to give up.   Don’t.   Every time you hear that voice, listen to it.  Talk to it.  Tell it who is actually in charge.   When your body is weakening and you are  knackered tell your body who is in charge.

That’s the only thing that will separate you from the others.   Anyone can cycle this distance, even me.   But winning it will take a determined mind, not fitter legs.

Eat well, stay hydrated.   And above all, never forget why you are doing this.   This is your race.  Your one chance to get into the area where you want to work.   Quit, take too much time out, rest because you are hurting and you may as well just order more stationary for your desk now.

You have to want this like nothing else.  When you are beaten tell yourself “I chose this, I want this, this is who I am”.   Get on your saddle and start going again.   And 10 minutes later you will be a few miles closer to winning.

Okay?  Now don’t let me down.’

 

List of cycling kit for 2400+mile endurance race over 12 days

Travelling light for an endurance cycling trip

Travelling light for an endurance cycling trip

Travelling light takes on a new meaning tonight. For the next few days I will be laying out the kit for the Transcontinental Bike Race for London to Istanbul. All of it has to fit in that saddle bag in the top left oh and on me! And just put in the route tonight – 2446miles – double checking the kit quite a few times.

The kit –

[Left-Right and back across] Medical kit – iodine, sudocream, etc ; lighter ; 2x spare tyres ; dry kit – cotton trousers, WWF T-shirt, water bottles, back-up energy gels (or just for day 1 to get going) emergency tent, thermal blankets, two cycling jerseys, 3x socks, toothpaste + brush, helmet camera [have to get charge lead], passport, visa, bank cards + emergency debit card, medical insurance dog-tag; tiny camera + associated leads, GARMIN Edge 800, emergency power source; MP3 (for those dark moments :p); light-weight rain coat; night bike torch; thermal layer; 2 x cycling shorts; calf supports [going to hurt after all!]; (to be made) translation flash cards + daily route highlights……..must get small suntan cream….small phone and power adaptor……..

Oh course there is also bike helmet, bike gloves and top tube snack bag…..let me know in the comments if I am missing anything!

A Tour de France on your own

With the Tour de France 100th Anniversary just completed, and Chris Froome coming out on top after some mighty and determined displays in the Alps & Pyrenees, the pub talk around me always turns to the fact – ‘Is this the hardest endurance race in the world?’.

This monster of an event, consists of 22 teams of 8-8 cyclists with an army of back-up psychologists, team doctors, masseurs, drivers, chefs and well I suppose coffee boys.  And the Tour’s ‘supply chain’ doesn’t stop there, they have team cars loaded with extra bikes – each costing between $7000-$14000 – handing out water & energy bars. They have lunch placed for riders along the route, so they can keep their head down and bash it out up the mountains. Then of course there are marshalls, route maps, markers, closed roads (no traffic, very important note!). They also have good hotel rooms, a regimented dinner and breakfast, a phone so they can ring loved ones whenever they like. And in addition to all of this they have the ability to draft behind team-mates/the peloton (which takes out about 40% of the effort) and 2 rest days (although on those rest days it is better to go for a little ride to keep those legs moving).

Now I wouldn’t dare say that the Tour de France is up there with the most difficult. The climbs and the speed of that race is far greater than any physical struggle on a football pitch (:p). Those athletes are some of the fittest people on the planet.

However…. there is a little race on 3rd August that will test the mind and body quite a lot too. Only 46 riders, who are not allowed to draft. They have two checkpoints scattered across Europe (1 in the 2nd highest pass in the Alps) which they have to find themselves amongst the 17-18hours (or no doubt sometimes 24hour) biking days, with limited battery on a GPS and a battered map. There is no support cars. The clock is always ticking. There is no stages. No rest days. You have to carry everything you will need. Not even a friend who will meet you at the end of the day. In fact you will be cycling across countries where no one speaks your language and quite frankly they don’t care what you are doing. Oh and to be competitive you are looking at doing a greater distance (2446miles according to Google maps) than the Tour de France this year in 2/3 of the time or about 13-14days.

This is the Transcontinental Bike Race. I will be on the start line.

To find out more about my charities –  WWF & RFU Injured Players Foundation – please follow the links. Pay for the pain.

Why we need adventure in our lives – pictures paint a thousand words

Ok I admit, after 2 weeks on the saddle, I will be sore. It is indeed the length of the Tour de France and unsupported – What the Transcontinental Race is all about . I will want a bed. Asterix and Obelix will have nothing on the amount I am going to eat. And yes, most of all I will want to see some friends and family. BUT. It will be a spanky good adventure. And just to encourage the wider interweb community to take up a challenge like this, I have posted some pictures of the landscape I will be going through.

Dolomites in the Italian Alps. Don't worry they will be a cruel mistress.

Dolomites in the Italian Alps. Don’t worry they will be a cruel mistress.

Lake Bled in Slovenia

Lake Bled in Slovenia

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Belogradchik, Bulgaria

Serbia.....bet you are looking for cheap easyjet flights now!

Serbia…..bet you are looking for cheap easyjet flights now!

Garmin Edge 800 – Thank God I have you my technical little friend: 5 ways this device will save me in the Transcontinental Race

garmin-e800-gps-zoom

As we approach the starting gun for the Transcontinental Race, I am scrolling through all my gear – I swear it is all carefully selected! Well a full update on the gear will be coming up but today I wanted to focus on this great Gimzo that Garmin were kind enough to allow me to demonstrate on the longest, unsupported, solo bike ride in Europe – pretty good showcase I think?

This new full-colour, touchscreen, map generating marvel is all set to get me out of some heart racing situations. Talking about heart-racing it’s new heart-rate-based calorie counter should help me avoid the bonk and keep me strict on the food intake, while the distance/elevation indications should help the head in those long mountain climbs! When you are 500, 1000, 1500 miles from home you want more than a fold-up map – as I learnt in a recent heavy shower – and below I have listed just some of the reason why the Garmin GPS was a vital bit of kit for this undertaking.

1. Istanbul – a city of 20 million people…..its…well…..big……and probably quite nasty in a few places (more of that in the next entry). Picture the scene, 10 miles from the finish, you are exhausted and quite honestly feed up of being on a bike seat…….then you get lost……Apart from the big spanking motorway, the map below shows quite a maze of routes to the finish line – reminds me of some sick video game. This will be the moment for my GPS to shine and you never know it could be the difference between a respectable finish or well, last place.

Istanbul map

2. Protests and riots – The city is angry. As much as the world’s media plays out the fairytale story of a royal prince, certain Turkish uprisings probably haven’t played out quite yet. Best be staying away from those big protest squares – thanks Garmin!

Istanbul riots

3. Bad weather in the Alps – From time to time I really get sick of people posting these magnificent pictures of Alpine landscape. It isn’t Utopia. As the Giro demonstrated this year, the weather can turn down right nasty and very quickly. Time to get the rain jacket on and look for the closet town – fast!

Dave Fisher's wet bike

4. Night cycling – I hate it. Period. 17-18hour long days mean that your senses are screwed even before the sun goes down. The Garmin GPS is my ace, I am pulling that baby out to make sure I don’t get lost and get to the next bed as quick as possible (or isolated roundabout to put up a tent as may be the case!)

night cycling

5. The accommodation isn’t going to be glamorous on this trip but at least there may be a hard bed and its dry. 7-8 days sleeping under a tree isn’t going to help you do 200+ miles in the saddle the next day. Lead me home Garmin, lead me home! I am seriously going to dream of that computer screen……the device needs a name…….after all it will be my only companion…….

A hut in the Clarence River Valley, Rainbow Road