Caa the-es

It took me a about ten minutes to get out of Caceres. A bit of pavement driving outside the hotel, back up the one-way street towards the Plaza. I crossed the Plaza as the pedestrians do and dropped onto the road on the other side, going the correct way on the one-way system. A straight road with a few roundabouts to cross over and I was at the edge of town. Then it hit me. It was freezing! The wind that blew across the long straight road away from the town was ice cold. My exposed arms felt it the most, my legs were kind of cold but I just dropped a gear and moved them faster. The day was forecast to be another scorcher, hence the early start. I left off the base layer for this reason but never bargained for such a nip in the early morning. The temperature did slowly rise  as the morning progressed but it was still a bit chilly after about an hour if I was in the shade.

Now an official stopping point on the EE Stage 1
The Restuarant Bar just outside Puebla de Obando. Now an official stopping point on the EE Stage 1

Only one main road to travel today, the EX-100 and I was on it pretty quickly. No busy intersections to contend with and little chance of the Garmin and I having a disagreement. I stopped for breakfast at the little town called Puebla de Obando which was just short of halfway. We stopped here last time in the middle of a short but torrential downfall, the weather was always going to be better this time with zero rain predicted. By the time I’d reached this place most of the day’s climbing had been completed and the cold wind had turned into a warm breeze. I was feeling pretty happy with myself and was looking forward to a little snack. I ordered a tostada jamon tomate and a cafe solo. It was a busy place considering it was only about 9.30 in the morning. I sat outside and caught up with the text messages I’d received whilst on the road, read some news and checked out the rest of my route. The food and coffee were excellent and only cost two euros. The bus that Cheryl was travelling on passed me as I was leaving the breakfast spot. I had less than thirty miles to go and it was mostly flat or downhill so we should have the afternoon to spend in Badajoz together.

The temperature rose pretty quickly this morning and after ten miles the road flattened off and became very straight. Twenty miles to go and I can see at least eighteen of them stretch out directly in front of me. It was the monotony of the road more than the heat that made the last twenty miles seem longer. I had plenty time to think. My mind wandered back to yesterday and the guys on Camino de Santiago trail. The exhaustion on each of their faces were still clear in my mind; the old man off his bike, the hungry guy with the horse and the solo walkers. I thought why would you walk out here by yourself, and in this heat. When I pondered about it more, I thought ‘Is this not what I am doing? It is just like what am I doing? What is it I am doing?’ I mean ‘What AM I doing?…. WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?’ – Were these walkers looking at me and thinking the same; why would you cycle out here in this heat, and all by oneself? At least if there is a bit of madness I’m not alone.

The last 4 kilometres into Badajoz were via a busy dual carriageway, I guess I never paid enough attention to the detail at the end of the route. The dual carriageway had a hard shoulder…. but it wasn’t a motorway. It wasn’t the way the Aldo and Mac navigated out of town last time, I remember routing it for them to avoid this road. It wasn’t a motorway, at no point was there any sign saying cyclist not allowed. I’m not sure why it had a hard shoulder type thing but I reckoned this wide lane at the side of the double carriageway was safer than the narrow space I had been cycling on all day and the red gritty covering meant a better surface for cycling. I thought about coming off at the next roundabout (what motorway has roundabouts? – none). I thought about trying to find another road into town but it was at the end of my day and it was TFH. Besides this road wasn’t a motorway.

For over two years I had been pronouncing Badajoz and Caceres like any other English speaking, British tourist would say it. When Cheryl was on the train the previouis day, she heard the correct pronunciation, at least in the local dialect, She didn’t recognise her next two destinations…. Caa the-es and Badahogh

In Badajoz there had done a good bit of landscaping done around the river. The City looked better for it but it was still a dump.

Summer Swelter

Parador Plasencia
The bar in Parador

It was a pleasure to stay in such an impressive building as was the Parador in Plasencia. Built in the 15th Century, the former Gothic style Convent of Santo Domingo retained all of its splendour. The breakfast was pretty damn good too and since it cost a fair penny I didn’t think they would mind me loading up a napkin full of little pastries to stock up for today’s ride. As the bus to Caceres wasn’t until after eleven we had a relaxing morning and breakfasted and checked out together.

The roads were busy at 10.30 and I was aware there were a few big bad junctions ahead where I needed to take some extra caution. I did try the evening before to find an easier route out of town but it was TFH (too hard). The road I wanted to get on and stay on was the N-630 but my caution getting onto this road led me to fully circle the roundabout, stop on the roundabout, check and eventually exit. It shows as a thick red circle on the Strava record.  At a roundabout further down this road, my fear of taking the slip road onto the autovista made an even thicker red circle on the Strava record and added about a half mile onto my journey. The final roundabout I had to encompass included two on ramps and two off ramps onto the Autovista. I carefully read the signpost as I approached, I carefully checked Garmin as I encircled. Then I carelessly took the on ramp to the autovista. I needed to travel along the slip road about a hundred yards to be sure. This guilty red line can be seen on the GPS record too. Bloody Garmin tells me I’m ‘off course’ and gives a crazy alert when I go round a roundabout on the outside edge and then lets me go a hundred yards onto a motorway before it say ‘ oh hey, by the way your taking the wrong road’. It’s only a hundred yards and the hard shoulder is quite wide (ha, the hard shoulder – you might think I would have noticed that on the way down) so I cheekily cycled back and found the correct turn off.

The N630 runs alongside the A-66 (the autovista) so the sounds that morning were a little different. I could hear no cow bells or bird sounds from the bushes. If there were lizards shuffling around at the road verge I was unaware. And I wasn’t going to startle any wildlife near the road with the sounds from the bike.

I felt good this morning, possibly because the air was already hot, possibly as I was clear of the town and on a downhill section. I felt I had my cycle legs on. There was a wind blowing across me, sometimes slightly in my favour sometimes against me.

On the climb up to Grimaldo I came across another cyclist, an older gentleman pushing his bike. I got talking to him, of sorts. When I showed my concern as to why he was off the bike he pointed to his legs. I noted they were sunburned a bit and tried to figure out in my head why you would stop cycling because your legs were sunburned. I mean how bad do they have to be to stop cycling… aren’t they just going to get more burned if he’s walking? Shouldn’t he just ride to the next town, find a bar have a drink and then worry about his sunburn? These crazy thoughts of mine passed through my tiny brain in seconds. It seemed he was giving his legs a rest; we were on a hill after all. He was from Iceland and he understood ‘Escocia’ and ‘Scotland’, his Spanish and his English were better than my Icelandic. He’d obviously been to Aberdeen, on a plane by the looks of the motions he was making with his arms. We chatted for a little longer, I got that he was ‘doing’ the Camino de Santiago and circling round back up to Avila. I didn’t know the Camino came this way but then remembered seeing the signs along the road. I wished him well and got on my way.

I was familiar a bit with Grimaldo it was a lunch stop last time but I wasn’t stopping there today. I stopped in Canaveral, near the spot where Aldo was stopped in his tracks by his support guys (halfway up the climb). I bought water, filled up the bottles and ate two of the stolen pastries from this morning. When I reached the huge lake at the bottom I counted six miles. Seven hundred feet in six miles is no problem to the super fit, super slim, hill climbing Aldo of today but for the two guys back then this was a toughie. What I didn’t realise was that they had a twenty mile descent to this point all the way from Caceres.

The lake was a beautiful still expanse of blue. There was the occasional car parked on the far bank, the occupants had spilled out onto the grassy area near the waters edge. Further along there were cattle in and around the waters edge where the grassy areas merged with the lake.

As I started to cycle away from the lake I came across walkers, ‘doing the Camino’ I guess. Some guys were obviously walking on their ownsome, others in groups, though it was difficult to tell as the groups were pretty strung out, maybe due to the heat. Also met a cowboy, we talked but he didn’t like what I told him. It was nueve kilometres to Canaveral, I didn’t tell him four miles of it was up a big feckin hill.

Cowboy doing the Camino

It was getting hot and my feet were boiling and I began to question why. I thought to myself I have thin summer cycling socks and I need to put on overshoes to keep my feet dry when I used these shoes in the winter. Not only that I needed to tape up all the air vents to keep out the water. Feck the tape, I’m an idiot! I’m cycling around Spain, it’s bloody hot and I have taped up the air vents in my shoes.

The climb to Caceres was energy sapping, it wasn’t steep but it was long and it was windy and Garmin reported the temperature as 34 degrees. The wind was a blessing and a curse; if it wasn’t blowing at me I would be frying though it would have been good if it was blowing at me from a different direction. I never fully appreciated how the heat would drain me, it was knackering. I eventually made it to a little cafe in a small town 5 miles from the outskirts of Caceres, I bought an ice cream and filled a water bottle. I text Cheryl and told her five miles and a bit, I’ll be there in about 20 minutes. An hour later I meet her in the little square down from the hotel. I throw water over my head and down my gullet, I feel better again.

Helter Skelter

I just got up, got ready and went. It was going to be a long day and a hot one, if the guys at eltiempo.es were to be believed. As I struggled through the narrow doorway into reception the girl at the desk started chatting, asking where I was going today. She sounded very impressed and insisted I have some coffee or juice. Coffee sounded too good to refuse and I fancied a couple of those magnificent looking buns but she only offered coffee or juice. I poured the filter coffee into a cup and added some cold water in order to finish it quickly and grabbed the buns on the way out. The girl jumped up as if startled, not sure if this was because I grabbed her buns. But she smiled, wished me well and grabbed my buttocks as I pushed my bike into the front street. You got to love the friendly staff in this hotel.

It was cold this morning (except for my buttocks) but looking at the clear blue sky I reckoned it wouldn’t stay this way for long. I did a little detour out of Avila as there seemed no other way onto the N-110, the road I wanted to get on. The detour meant I cycle six or seven miles before I join this road, adding only a few miles onto my journey. It was a pleasant little detour and the miles went passed very quickly. But when I hit the main road the next few miles seem to absolutely drag. My Garmin showed that I was about twelve miles in and I was thinking something needs to happen to make this interesting. The road was flat and straight, I could see the route stretch directly ahead of me for miles…. give me a kink on the road, a small bend or even a little incline.

Today consisted of three distinct climbs followed each time by a descent steeper and longer, a more than just reward on paper (computer screen). On the graph the climbs looked like just little bumps in the road but only because they were showing in proportion to the third descent, which was of near Alpine proportions. It had a few long straight bits where you could ‘put your foot down’. There were short slopes with sharp corners where you have to slow down to a near stop (at least I did). Then there were the slow sweeping bends where you could just let go, no need to pedal or brake if you used the racing line and dared to wander a bit on the road.. Of course the real fast guys would be pedalling like maniacs and braking like maniacs. A few miles into this I got that old Beatles song into my head…. Helter Skelter but I couldn’t remember all the words, so I just kept repeating what I could remember over and over in my head. If I sang out loud I might remember more, I thought and hey who is going to hear me? So I did but I still couldn’t remember any more, and I found it was all too much for my lungs to cope. So I shut up again! I moved on to other different inane thoughts. It wasn’t hugely relevant to this activity as one of the lines I remembered went ‘When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide, where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride’. There was no way I wanted to go back to the top of the slide, that was about two and a half thousand feet in twelve miles. Huge amount of fun on the descent but I had done my climbing for the day. This was just one of my other inane thoughts.

I planned my first stop for Piedrahíta, forty miles into today’s trip. As I cycled through the town I slowed, it wasn’t much more than a one street town and nothing appealled to me enough to stop. I knew El Barco de Avila was down the road a bit so I could afford a quick change of plan. After I had passed through Piedrahíta I pulled into the side and stopped. As it was getting hot, I removed my base layer and tied it round the handlebars and covered myself in sun screen. I was still suffering saddle sore and had been blaming the poor seat quality but it occurred to me (I had loads of time to think this morning) maybe I should experiment with the seat position. I loosened it, slid it back a centimetre or two and tightened it again, let’s see how that goes. It was worse on the climbs and Piedrahíta was at the foot of the second climb. Whatever I did it had immediate effect, my bum pain was easing.

I stopped in El Barco for lunch four hours and 53 miles into the trip. I was passed halfway, two out of the three climbs were complete and still felt really good. I bought some water from the bar where I had lunch, filled the bottles and went on my way. Cheryl was to change bus in this town but I didn’t want to hang around for another half an hour or try and find the bus station. I stopped before the third climb, it was hot and I wanted to apply even more sun screen. This hill I felt, it was longer and steeper than the other two. Cheryl’s bus passed me soon after I restarted and went out of sight as I passed through the next little village. But I caught sight of it again as I left Puerta Castilla, it looked like a dinky toy as it was a few kilometres ahead of me and over 300 feet higher, ah my climb was not over… feck. I didn’t know at the time but the bus was very near the top and if I hadn’t stopped for a photo shoot with a motorcyclist I might have even caught it on the way down. After that I didn’t stop again until Cabezuela del Valle, a nice little town, where all the buildings had the same slanting red tiled roofs and on the banks of a charming little river.

The gentle breeze at the early start had slowly picked up throughout the day. It seemed to come in waves of constant blowing (in my face) for 5 or 10 minutes and disappear again for a similar length of time. This made the last 10 miles more challenging than most of the day so I put out my head any chance of a detour just to get to the magic 100 mile marker…. It can wait

Wadders
Wadders

When I visited here in 2013 with Aldo, Mac and Brian we visited this little square and chatted about the day’s activities. We got talking to another visitor who was sitting nearby getting slowly drunk by himself. He was a sculpture, he informed us and he had a commission with a blank canvas but hadn’t yet decided what to fill the space with. We were not convinced by his story but we listened, He had overheard us talking and was interested in Aldo’s story of how Brian stopped him halfway up the climb through Canaveral the previous day. Brian had specific instructions not to organise the lunch spot until after the climb was complete. We had a laugh but Aldo still seemed a bit annoyed with it. Anyway the art work is called Wadders so not sure if our story influenced his idea.

Out of Segovia

You could hear the bells from the Cathedral, which was at the other end of Plaza Mayor from our Hotel. The noise wasn’t unpleasant and Cheryl liked to count them and let me know what the time was.

We had worked out the timings the night before and in our heads we had a well practised drill which included who’s in the shower first, packing the toiletries and zipping up the bag. The next days clothes were all laid out, we even had breakfast choices made from experimenting the morning before. The alarm was set and we tried to sleep. It took me a long while but I eventually dozed off, I remember hearing three bells but none after that until I awoke. I wasn’t awake enough to count them but Cheryl assured me she heard eight rings. I made that sound as if she was quite calm about it… she wasn’t she was frantic. In fact I hadn’t seen this frantic since she thought she’d lost her handbag in Milan. We were meant to be eating a quicky breakfast at 8 o’clock sharp as soon as the bar opened. I fumbled for my phone so I could check the time and re-assure her that she had miscounted. My phone said 0800 – feck how did that happen? I remember setting the alarm so couldn’t understand why it didn’t go off an hour ago.

There was only one bus to Avila today, at 9.00 and if Cheryl didn’t make it then we had to go to the back-up plan, I hadn’t told Cheryl what that was yet. We were both now frantic and took a few seconds to think, same plan no breakfast, no showers. By 8.20 we were ready… of sorts. We checked out and Cheryl was in the taxi and on the bus with time to spare. I could have had breakfast as this was a short day cycle but decided just to get on my way.

View on the way out of Segovia

Plaza Mayor was empty. The atmosphere was of the quality that you only get in the mornings, before the world awakes and before the buzz begins. The skies were clear and we could see two hot air balloons floating above the City, which added to the aura this beautiful morning. I set down the cobbled street (great practise for next year). I knew this road as I ventured down here twice yesterday, once for the bike shop visit and then to buy the bus ticket. It was the way out of Segovia, Garmin and I agreed on that. I stopped at the view point and tried to capture the essence of the morning as there were now several hot air balloons towering above the roman dwellings on the edge of the settlement.

After about 7 miles I passed through a little village called Valverde del Majano, which was even more peaceful than the streets of Segovia; were all it’s inhabitants still asleep? Abades a further 3 miles further on was much the same. I was looking for somewhere to stop for coffee and a snack but the shutters were still down and there was nobody on the streets. I passed another two villages in the next 10 miles that were only slightly busier but still no bars or coffee shops open. I guess that’s just the way Saturday mornings are around here. The seat post was fixed yesterday so I had stopped in these villages anyway, just for some adjustments and some readjustments.

Although there were a few hilly bits on this road, so far there was nothing very testing. It gave me time to take in the views of Sierra de Gredos or the Sierra de Guadarrama, I’m not sure which. I passed through the Guadarrama Mountains yesterday and my destination today is in the Gredos Mountains, they seem to run into each other. The mountains were about 10 to 20 miles away to my left. The scene on my right was of shallow rolling hills, the horizon being too far away to focus. I was on a flat fertile plain and it was starting to get hot.

I got confused with the road structure near Sanchidrian. This was the intersection where I stop heading west on the small roads and take the main road south. Garmin showed my carefully designed route taking me up the off ramp and I could not work out from the view ahead how the hell I was meant to get onto the road I wanted to get on, or even which road it was that I wanted to get on. So I thought time for coffee and cake and doubled back to Sanchidrian. This village could never be counted as lively unless comparing to my experience in all the other places that morning. I found a spot with good nosh and friendly service, also got the water bottles refilled.

tyreThe first thing that Cheryl remarked on when I took delivery of the bike was the smooth surface, no tread on the tyres. She made some comment about how they didn’t look like they were of the ‘Indestructible’ variety. Well seems she was right. About 10 miles from Avila I heard a noise that sounded like a blown tyre, I kept cycling as you do when you are in denial. Feck – I did not mind changing it, it was just that my smart-ass thinking that on my shortest day, I would only take one spare inner tube with me. Where’s the sense in that?

As I changed the tube I was attacked by little skin-biting flying ant-like things, a close relation to Midgies I think!

The last 10 miles I counted down, watching the road surface as I cycled, though not sure looking at the road would help avoid any potential tyre burster. So I just prayed instead, after all this is a catholic country.

Avila at night
Avila at night

Avila is a lovely city as good looking, if not better looking than Segovia. Our hotel was within the city walls, between the castle walkway and the cobbled street. Getting there at lunch-time was a bonus,

By the way Cheryl made it to Avila ten minutes after she got out of bed in Segovia.

Madrid to Segovia

Madrid is a big busy place with lots of fecking traffic. We stayed a few miles out of the City Centre on Calle Jose Abascal but it was still a big bad busy roads place. I knew this from going out the night before on a trial ride on the rented bike. I selected 5 miles on Garmin’s round trip calculator and chose one at random. I got lost on the one-way system only a few hundred yards after I started when I decided that I was not going to attempt the massive roundabout that it was leading me to. I’m not sure I would even want to drive round that in a car.

Breakfast was meant to be at seven but the alarm had been reset in the early hours of the morning as I was still awake and had a well reasoned change of heart after a debate with myself about holidays and rushing and enjoying it, the little longer lie in won. Though a late night I had a good sleep and was showered, shaved and dressed for breakfast by 7,30. But even at this hour I was breakfasting alone, too early for the holidaying Cheryl. She had a shit sleep, thought I was the one who was going to suffer that. Breakfast spread was fantastic, a real Continental in a posh hotel. If this was any other holiday I would have had some of everything and more. After Cheryl saw me off she went for her morning snack. I said a snack as she ate very light as she’d arranged a Yoga class with Marta at 10 o’clock. Alas she missed this as the clock on her iPad was lying to her, it was still on BST. So yaga yaga no yoga, shame she only realised this after her rationed breaky.

Calle Jose Abascal wasn’t so busy with cars at nine in the morning as it was all evening yesterday, however the roundabout that scared me last night was at the bottom of the six lane road outside our Hotel. And it was the first obstacle on route. I spent a frustrating few hours at bedtime trying to replan my route so I could hurry out of Madrid with little hassle away from the big bad wide one-way fecking busy roads and roundabouts. But I gave up, Cheryl’s laptop has IE8 – fecking hopeless! Try redrawing a Strava route on an iPad mini and using Google Maps for reference on smart phone. One thing I did learn from the night before was which side of the road to cycle on. Obviously I know it’s the right hand side but it is all one-way streets so there is no oncoming traffic to keep you right. What I was doing was driving on the very left lane thinking I was playing it safe and keeping a slow pace. Some of these roads are five or six lanes wide so it’s surprising how long it took me to realise I was cycling in the fast lane. Anyway, I decided feck it I’ll just go the route I first planned, what’s the worst that can happen? I cycled across the pedestrian crossing as my hotel entrance looked onto the fast lane, it goes against my ethos of where cyclist should ride, better this than jumping the lights. Then I jumped the lights, I had bad positioning and was getting in the way of the pedestrians. Jumping the lights goes against my ethos of what I think cyclists should do, better this than cycling on the pavement. Ah, in the slow lane but so were countless delivery drivers – parked two wide so in the second slow lane too, Nothing for it but jump onto the pavement, the pedestrians didn’t seem to mind.

I was very careful as I cycled over the remaining pedestrian crossings; I can cycle as slow as I can walk. There were about six of them in all before I reached the safety of a two lane one-way easy riding side street, which ran parallel with the busy multi-lane mayhem. This road was good with no scary moments and easy to follow on the Garmin. It took me a while to find the cycleway. I was never going to find it following the Garmin but I tried. I stumbled across the red cycle lane when lost and Garmin was recalculating the route. The cycleway went underneath Chamartin railway station and doubled back up to a road I’d already been on, where it stopped. I decided to follow another solo cyclist down the road, he’d just come off the cycleway too. As we headed to a roundabout, Garmin told me to go all the way round and go back the way I came. The cyclist in front looked liked he was lost as it seemed like he was also circumnavigating the roundabout. Suddenly he darted down the final exit, except it wasn’t an exit in was an entrance. This wasn’t a little side street, it was a feeder road from the adjoining highway. What fool would cycle up there? After a moments hesitation I followed him. There was plenty space between the white line and the edge of the tarmac, which helped in avoiding oncoming vehicles. We passed one other cyclist on this short road and he didn’t look bemused that we were going the opposite way on a busy on-way street. I followed my involuntary guide onto a sharp left turning off the main road and onto the cycleway…. for proper this time.

red cyclewayThis red cycleway runs alongside the the M607 for the next 20 miles at which point I, as a cyclist, can join the road proper. Though once out of town it is never as close to the Autopista as seen in the snap shown. This was truly a cycle highway, very busy with other cyclists and no other traffic and no pedestrians. It was an easy ride, with ups and downs, though mostly ups. My pace wasn’t fast by any means as I was deliberately saving energy for the real climb later that day. I stopped to adjust my saddle height just a few miles in. I thought I had got this correct last night but now seemed too low. It took me another stop further up this road to realise the seat post was slipping regardless of how tight I turned the bolt. Most of the ride along the cycleway was pleasant but uneventful. I did have a chat with another solo cyclist but as he spoke even less English than I did Spanish the conversation was short lived. I knew I was at the end of the red cycleway section when Garmin informed me I was off course, though its recalculated course made no sense along dirt tracks, farmers fields and marshes. I had just crossed over the main road that I wanted to get onto, so I simply joined it at the point where it intersected with the cycleway.

The first ten miles on the ‘real’ road was relatively flat, the climb didn’t start until about four or five miles short of Navalcerrada. No speed records broken along this road either; my mind was on the climb ahead and on the spectacular views of the well defined rugged edges of the mountain tops as they stood out against the clear blue skies.

looking back at Madrid
looking back at Madrid

I stopped near Navalcerrada to take off my base layer as one top was enough; to adjust my saddle height; to eat; to drink; to answer a call of nature and to check my mental state. Several cyclists went past going in the opposite direction (downhill), with great speed and huge smiles. I restarted my journey very slowly and kept this pace until I had caught a fellow cyclist; he’d past me a whole five to ten minutes before I started off from my rest place. So I slowed down. Unknowingly this guy helped me up the hill, not just because of his pace but his presence ahead of me was a focus, rather than staring at the climb as it slowly appeared and spread out uncompromisingly in front after each bend. At each kilometre from the top a marker was posted at the side of the road stating how many kilometres to go and the gradient, either average to the top or current, I’m not sure. The first one I noticed was at 7km with a gradient of 7%, which I was happy with as my Garmin reported I was at that time doing 8.3%. I looked forward to seeing these signposts but they never came fast enough. At 6km the gradient was still 7%, at 5km it was still 7%. When I approached the 4km marker I could see it was not 7%, it was 8 or 9 or 6, my eyes weren’t good enough too far off – I begged it to be 6…. It was 8. Thankfully the 3km and 2km posts were both showing 7% again. I was already celebrating in my head when I could see the 1km to go post but I was slightly deflated when the gradient was showing 10%… Arghhh – either the sign writer had a sense of humour or the road builder had!

The first beer – I have a day off tomorrow

I celebrated at the top with a Fanta and a pastry. I put my base layer back on, adjusted my saddle and flew down the mountain. I calculated that it took me about 30 seconds to complete the 26km downhill into Segovia, Strava reported it to be a little longer.

I did have one brief encounter with the traffic cops coming into Segovia but I put that down to them being knobs and went on my way. I also cycled far too much when I reached Segovia, taking a few wrong turnings on the cobbles.

Cheryl reached the hotel before me despite completing a taxi tour of the all the major bus stations in Madrid before she departed.

Loch Ness

Aldo suggested Loch Ness Etape as part of my preparation for my reverse EE stage. It was very good timing, a whole ten days before I start cycling in Madrid. The route would be free from traffic and we’d cycle through a beautiful part of Scotland. The course looked relatively flat with the exception of the monster of a hill halfway round. It was this hill that was our focus, it is more of a challenge than any other climb that I have attempted to date.

I wasn’t sure if tapas was the ideal fuel the night before an early rise and long cycle. But this was the best we were going to get on a busy Saturday night in Inverness. The food was quite good and just what we needed after walking round the town several times getting knock-backs from all the posh places. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that all the good food stops were fully booked on a Saturday night. If this place didn’t have an available table then it was a toss-up between a very popular fast food burger chain and an ‘all you can eat’ Chinese buffet chain.

I read somewhere that only one night’s broken sleep will not make a big difference in performance, so I was thankful for that as the mattress I tried to sleep on was so bad that counting all the broken bits together I might have got a couple of hours. I’d be better off sleeping on the floor – exactly what I reverted to the next night!

I used some precious bottled water and boiled the kettle. I emptied two complimentary sachets of nescafe in to a small cup and half-filled to get a fix before breakfast. I only got partly dressed for breakfast, socks, cycle shorts and base layer. Let’s face it who am I going to meet other than Aldo at 5.15 am. Nobody, though if we were an hour earlier we would have bumped into our drunken neighbour  from the room above me and next door to Aldo. He bumped into a lot of things after he fell through the B&B front door, though he had the courtesy of finishing his rendition of the Beatles classic line of ‘I get by with a little help from my friend’ when he reached the front gate.

The start-line was only a short cycle down the hill to Bught Park on the banks of the River Ness. Despite Aldo’s prediction of chaos, the start was busy but extremely well organised and we breezed through at our on-time and ridiculously early start time of 6.32.

Stop number one was at the top of a small climb out of town about a mile into the event. We cycled this little climb the night before and felt every degree of the gradient. Today we seemed to glide up the hill with ease, in a peleton of hundreds of cyclists. Also stopped and peering backwards down the hill, obviously waiting for friends, were three fellow cyclists. ‘Have you given up as well?’ one of them asked. I’m not sure if we replied or just gave an approving laugh. A little bit of friendly banter that was typical throughout this friendly event. As we left the layby and carried on we passed a guy fixing his front wheel back onto his bike and blowing up his tyre. A puncture so soon – poor sod.

Soon after this Aldo stopped us for what reason I cannot remember but it was not a puncture as I first feared. We’d already passed several unfortunate people who were crouched over their bike at the side of the road obviously suffering a puncture in front or rear. On remounting our conversation turned to tyres and punctures. Without doing the maths I reasoned that although we saw a lot of casualties it was only a small and probably expected proportion out of the 3,000 cyclists on the road. Aldo had another explanation, not everyone has quality tyres, making them vulnerable to regular punctures. He went further than this suggesting the tyres he buys are ‘indestructible’. He may have a point, I thought – I hadn’t had a puncture since August last year, that’s 2,000 miles of winter cycling on these tyres and one of them was of the ‘Indestructible’ variety that Aldo has mentioned. Aldo hadn’t had one for even longer; he had got good at breaking spokes but had a good record for preserving his tubes. Of course both his tyres were of the ‘Indestructible’ variety.

Our route down the A82 was up and down along the west side of the Loch, though the climbs were mostly gentle and never lasted for long. There was calm over the Loch, with little or no wind, it was dry and the little sprinkle of rain that we had when we left the B&B had come to nothing. We cyclists had the road to ourselves, no noise of vehicles except for the occasional marshal’s motor bike slowly cruising by. The noise was of nature, of gear changing and near-by chitchat of other cyclists. It was an enchanting atmosphere with some great views across the water. I needed to stop, not for a puncture but for another reason – a call of nature. To be comfortable going up that hill I had to go. Shortly after we passed through Drumnadrochit I choose my layby carefully, basically the first one where there were free berths, where I would be at least partly hidden between trees. Facing the Loch I let go and enjoyed the view. Looking down the steep bank about 100 feet to the Loch I had a different view of cookers, freezers and fridges, a white goods graveyard. Someone else had chosen this layby and partly hidden berth as carefully as I had. Before remounting my bike I had to push passed yet another fellow cyclist with a puncture, he should get himself an ‘Indestructible’ tyre I thought.

We had agreed to meet at the feed station after the summit. It was our only scheduled stop. As we approached the bottom of the hill I reminded Aldo of our agreed meeting place. He didn’t need reminding but it was the green light for him to go at his own pace, which would be about a couple of miles faster than me for most of the incline that was to follow. He had been patient all the way down the west bank of the Loch, slowing for me when needed. I like to think that I was pacing him sensibly for the second part of the Ride.

The five mile hill was split into three distinct climbs, on the first climb the atmosphere changed again. It was still calm and there were still no motor vehicles on the road and no wind, of course there was the odd cyclist with puncture problems – poor sods. But now all the chitchat had stopped as most cyclists were too busy breathing to talk. It was hard work but I took it slowly and pushed a little harder only when I needed to avoid other cyclists on the very busy road. I was surprised to see so many people off their bikes and pushing them up the hill, more than a handful and this was the first climb! I kept telling myself it’s tougher to walk and push the bike than to cycle; my lungs and my legs were beginning to disagree.

After the first mile there was a short downhill this led to the start of the second climb, which I understood to be a lesser gradient. It wasn’t, that is I had misunderstood and I didn’t need to be on it to comprehend. As I came round the final downhill part, the second climb loomed in front of me, any momentum that I had from this section was completely nullified within the first few yards of the climb. Strangely though I was now beginning to enjoy this climbing thing except that the sun had come out and I was feeling very hot underneath my four layers. Near the top of this climb I saw another cyclist with his bike upside down in the layby. As I got closer I recognised the figure, it was Aldo…. Or was it? Aldo had ‘Indestructible’ tyres, so I had a second take – yep it was Aldo – poor sod. When I shouted over ‘Nae luck mate’ it was meant with sincerity, to have a puncture was bad luck but to get it on the climb was real tough. It was only afterwards when he showed me the video did I find it funny, no hilarious. After the second climb was complete I could see far enough beyond up the third climb to where I thought the summit was. I got chatting to some girl who had cycled this hill the previous week; she warned me about the sudden short steep incline at the start of the third and final climb of the hill. I’m not sure why you would do this hill one week before the event but I guess we’re all different. I was glad of the warning, the short sharp segment really hurt my legs but strangely I enjoyed it.

I expected Aldo to have the puncture fixed in no time and catch me before the feed station four miles down the road. Or at least arrive shortly afterwards. Dismounted and standing at the entrance to the feed station I waited. I waited for about 25 minutes and all sorts of thoughts and worries went through my head but the predominant thought was; ‘Where the feck is he? My body temperature was dropping and I was starting to feel the chill from the sweat in my base layer. When Aldo did arrive he told me the story of the big gaping hole that appeared in his ‘indestructible’ tyre. My reckoning why he took so long was that he’s forgotten how to change an inner tube and because he’d had these ‘Indestructible’ tyres since he was 12.

We set a good pace home from the feed station and raced at my 100% for the last sixteen miles. We passed so many other cyclists here that made me think that I set too slow a pace on the way out. Nevertheless Aldo’s pace making on the way home matched what I expected from him as he had set this precedent each of the last two weekends.

Apparently Aldo got silver and I got bronze.

On Sunday night we tried to eat in all the posh places that knocked us back the night before. Any of them would have been nice but Inverness was closed.

I didn’t take any photos but Aldo has shared his video clip. If he hasn’t disabled access to the link by the time you read this – turn up the volume.

That shite moment

The Crow Road

Saturday I went up The Crow Road, the one going through the Campsie Hills not the one in the City that Ian Banks wrote about. Up and over the hill from Lennoxtown, this was the more difficult ascent. I’d previously climbed from the other side, via Killearn and Fintry, which I knew at the time was much less difficult. The route also took us up Tak-Ma-Doon Road, for the first time. Though there are some pretty steep bits, this was the easier direction to approach from.

Aldo’s text in the morning rather surprised me, Gadget Man hadn’t set his alarm! Last week he surprised me as he got us lost in a blizzard of hail, this time was equally as surprising as he postponed his arrival for an extra hour in bed. Both of these are my tricks.

When Aldo did arrive on Saturday morning, I wasn’t ready. I thought I had more time than I did, though I did manage to make the pasta sauce for that night’s dinner, wash the bike and clean and oil the chain. Oh yes and I managed to sneak in another half an hour’s kip, a deliberate decision of course.

I can sleep anytime, anywhere, except when I have something on the next day and I need to get up early.

On the train home
On the train home
Ferry to Brodick
Ferry to Brodick
Waiting for breakfast
Waiting for breakfast

But that was another trip


We set off before midday, Aldo had downloaded the route to the Garmin, I hadn’t bothered. This was a recipe for failure as the only two times that Aldo has got lost that I know about is when he was following the Garmin directions on unfamiliar territory. I never follow the Garmin and often get lost.

The journey up to Lennoxtown, though windy, was an easy ride. It was all uphill but neither of us were in a hurry to expend too much energy. We cycled through some familiar ground, places where we’d cycled together when we were new to this sport, only a few years ago.

When turning into Crow Road we discussed again our thoughts and reassured each other that this was about getting up the hill at our own pace. About preparation for Loch Ness etape and enjoying it. It was not a race!

The Race (part one)

I had managed to hold on to his back wheel or within a few yards for two and a half of the three miles on the ascent up Crow Road.

I set off first but Aldo very quickly passed me – at the start of the long straight part of the road leading up to the car park. As the gradient lessened slightly I gradually caught him and was nearly back on his wheel when we turned the bend just before reaching the car park. Consciously or not, he gave a little spurt, not because he thought I was close but because of the spectators sitting on the grass verge at the car park edge. Of course they weren’t spectators, just like this wasn’t a race, just two couples enjoying a clear view across the Clyde Valley. As I passed I caught the eye of one of the girls as she moved to a standing position, she looked into my eyes and I read her mind – Why is the cyclist in front looking so cool and relaxed when the guy behind is wearing a face of a Maniac? –

I was conscious of not pushing too much as I knew the steepest section of the hill was yet to come so I steadied my pace and watched Aldo slowly pulled away from me again. A couple of hundred yards past the car park as the hill got steeper, I found with my even tempo I was slowly catching him. Another hundred yards and again I was on his wheel, I was right there, I was up into third bottom gear, how good did I feel. I could take him now, I thought just cruise up beside him, hang there for a while then shift up a gear and humiliate him. Instead I stayed where I was but only for a little while. Suddenly the lower parts of my legs were starting to disobey me, instead of coming up beside my companion, I was again falling behind as I slowed my pace to something more sensible. If you were an onlooker on the hillside you would have observed and got the impression that I was going backward like a novice competing against a thoroughbred.

He beat me up by quite a distance it seemed but the record showed it only as a minute. I was breathing normally again and was happy at being so close. And now looking forward to the downhill reward.

The Race (I wasn’t racing)

I wasn’t ready for the immediate climb at the foot of the hill as we turned off just before Fintry. The climb out of Fintry was only 2.1 miles with an average gradient of only 3%. Aldo overtook me again but I wasn’t playing, I was going slow, I was knackered. He waited for me on the flat and we had an easy pace again alongside the Carron Valley Reservoir.

The Race (only racing if I win)

Turning into Tak-Ma-Doon Road, my lungs and my legs were feeling good again In fact they were feeling the best they had all day. We chatted for a while at the start until we met the rising ground. I took the lead but expected Aldo to be on my shoulder and pass me near the brow of one the short steep inclines. I enjoyed this climbing better, not sure why as it wasn’t too long since my legs weren’t working very well going up Crow Road. Maybe the short steep climbs (with flat parts in between) suit me better. I gave the odd glance over my shoulder but Aldo wasn’t close at any point up the hill. Maybe the roads were too narrow on this hill or maybe I was just too bloody good for him? I beat him up by a whole ten seconds or so.

Tak-Ma-Doon down was twisty with not much chance to get some speed up, so a wary descent.

The road home was fast as I pushed myself over the final part of the journey. Aldo asked for the same average over the last ten miles to match last weeks effort. It was mostly downhill, the wind was at our backs and I was feeling stronger this week, much more than last so the sixteen mile per hour average was easy to beat.


This trip was really our final preparation for the Loch Ness etape next week. At least it was my last big cycle before then and the last one with any significant climbing. The Cycle was good and we did nearly as much climbing in total as we’d expect to do next week. But I don’t think we got the test that we will have on that hill just after Fort Augustus. The distance was a bit short of the Etape distance as well, which I am less bothered about, especially since I felt so strong for the last twenty miles.