Friday, 10 May 2019

Storms, Sand and a Slab of Jam

Storms, Sand and a Slab of Jam

Just a week ago we took a bike trip  along The Borderlands Trail, a long  distance hiking route. Mostly off-road it  twist and turns through forests and fields, along wide unpaved roads and single tracks that roughly correspond to the boundaries between Belgium and The Netherlands. It was warm and sunny but we soon discovered there was a seriously strong head wind and that long periods of dry weather had turned many of the gravel roads into elongated sand pits. It was tough going. Yvonne began to feel the effort. Her legs were aching, she frequently had to mount and dismount as she had chosen the wrong bike and tires for the conditions. Red-faced, sandy-mouthed but still in fairly good spirits she called out “I have a suggestion for your next column.......... "
Another day, another mountain, the centre of Spain is a massive plateau which doesn't mean that it's as flat as a pancake. However, many of the climbs are long rather than steep. A seemingly endless series of hair pin bends wind their way slowly to the top. “Originally paths for heavily loaded donkeys” I suggested. With so many twists and turns we could often see each other as we each proceeded at our own pace. I looked back to see Yvonne about seven or eight bends below, she waved, I waved cheerily back. It was quite a while before she arrived, obviously not very happy, at the top. She swore at the mountain, she swore at her fully packed bike, I can't remember if she swore at me but angry words were exchanged. I'd apparently misinterpreted her gesture. She was not waving but beckoning me to come back...she was tired and exhausted and could go no further. I'd smiled, waved and continued on my way, there were no mobile phones, so she had to struggle on. There was a bit more swearing before we entered a mountain hut, ordered coffee and the only food that was available, a slice of bread with, what can only be described as a slab of jam on top.
It did the trick. Her bicycle and I were forgiven but not the mountain, it is still reffered to by her as 'That !!@#!**!! Mountain'

We'd signed up for a night mountain bike ride. Although it had been raining for days before, and on the day itself, we decided to go anyway. The ride took us through cow sheds, saw mills, garden centres and villages lined with enthusiastic spectators....but it also led us through unlit, muddy, slippery and wet forest paths. At the end of each of these sections groups of cyclists were calling out in an attempt to relocate team mates. Hard to know if they ever found them. With mud up to the eyeballs nobody was recognisable!

The Mont Ventoux has legendary significance for followers of The Tour de France. Its 21 long, steep kilometres are a magnet for racing cyclist of all ages and abilities. With a van full of tents, bicycles and other equipment we were on the way to lead a bike tour. We'd made a small detour so that I could cycle the mountain. It was a bright sunny day, Yvonne found a nice spot to park and relax before the tiring days ahead ...and off I went. As I progressed up the mountain it started to get misty. By the time I reached the top the only thing I could see was the finish line. It was cold and there was literally nothing to else to see. No point in hanging around I went right back down again. The mist turned to drizzle, then to heavy rain. The road turned into a river, my fingers, on this midsummer day, were so cold I could barely use the breaks. The sharp, wet bends had become treacherous. About half way down I was relieved to see Yvonne driving towards me. My relief was short lived. Yvonne is a kind hearted person, she had fished up two wet and inexperienced cyclists and their fully packed bikes. 
There was no room for me in the van! 
I had no choice but to continue my cold, wet and at times scary descent.
In a café at the foot of the mountain it took me more than an hour and four glasses of Ventoux Liqueur to stop me shivering. Well, three glasses actually but I didn´t refuse when Yvonne offered to buy me a fourth one!

It was a perfect day as we left the narrow Ligurian coastal strip and the smell of sun tan oil behind us and almost immediately started going uphill. The tourists rarely get beyond this point. Some road workers waved as we approached the second long climb of the day heading for the highest point of our tour. There were few other people around. Onwards and upwards. Approaching the top the weather turned, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, nasty. There was a crashing of thunder and flashes of lighting, close by and all around, accompanied by heavy rain and hailstones. We thought it safer to get off the road... we dived into the bushes to get at least some shelter. The storm went on for ages, it stopped and started again. It eased a little then returned with extra force. Circling around as if on a search and kill mission, with us as the targets. Our thin summer cycling gear provided no protection and we´d foolishly not bothered with wind or rain jackets. I was considering following a file of cows that was weaving its way through the trees and undergrowth, in the hope that they may lead us to a herders refuge, when we were rescued by a passing truck, the only vehicle on the road. He drove us through the winding mountain roads, some now flooded others covered with a deep layer of hailstones as big as Ligurian olives. He dropped us off at a pass where we sheltered until we eventually made our way back to the coast. We arrived, almost dry but still cold and bedraggled, to find nothing had changed, the day as perfect as we had left it. 

Christmas eve in Louisiana, we found a campsite. We were shown to their 'luxury tent pitches' which consisted of a square patch of ground boarded by planks at ground level, at the four corners metal poles supported, would you believe it, a roof. Ah well, we'd camped in much stranger places during our year long bicycle trip around North America. However things really dit feel strange the next morning. It took us a while to realise that we were floating. It had rained heavily during the night. The planks were there to keep the water out. What they actually did, and did very well, was to allow water in and then keep it there! In effect we were floating on inflatable mattresses in our own private pool. In the right context I suppose that could be considered luxury! The high point of our Christmas day was watching our sleeping bags and clothes fooling around in the tumble dryer.

It was hot, very hot, even for a Georgian summer it was hot. Even high in the mountain resort where we had been staying it was hot. That was the reason we had planned to leave early but, not for the first time in Georgia, we were delayed by an excess of hospitality. It was gone midday, after too much lunch, when we left. No problem, we thought. It was all down hill from here... and so it was except that there were two tough climbs in the scorching sun to be negotiated first! We arrived at our destinations in a sorry state. Dehydrated and unable to eat much. We could not stop drinking. The rooms had no air conditioning, there was no relief and little chance to recover. I had painful cramps the whole night, neither of us slept much. All the symptoms of heat exhaustion. Next day, however, we had recovered enough and from there the road really was downhill all the way to the coast, where we encountered the most oppressive weather I have ever experienced but that's another story......  and there are plenty more involving, among other things, bears, guns, tumble weeds and police escorts.... 
.but the simple point that Yvonne wanted me to make is that,   and I know it's hard for some to believe,....yes ….we do this it for fun!

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