Day 8. Why you should buy a map before cycling the length of France... (Sunday 5th October)

October 5th, 2014
  Today Total
Distance 73 miles 582 miles (937km)
Height gain 1613 metres 7371 metres (24183ft)
Calories 3200 22000

It had been raining all night and this morning was just the same. When I went out for breakfast I also discovered that unlike all the other days I've had so far in France, which had been between 20 and 25 degrees c, now it was barely 10.  I prepared the bike with my many ill-fitting and many varied coloured waterproof covers and waited until the rain had died down a little and set off towards a hopeful overnight stop in Limoges. I'm not sure if I'd have set off if I'd have known, but today turned out to be the hardest day I've had by far and was a combination of the environment, the weather and the demoralising Romans...  I mean, what have they ever done for cyclists!


It all started to get tough form a very pleasant but wet town called Argenton-sur-Creuse.  This is a beautiful town made up of many medieval houses with those lining the river seemingly put up higgledy-piggledy with walls overhanging the river on supports that seemed too weak to take the weight.  But this was where the first real hill climb was. It was hard getting to the top but from this point along a roman road it was head on into heavy rain on long the straight roads where you could see the forthcoming steep hills from miles away, at one point I could see five long hard climbs in the distance....  Added to this for every downhill stretch I would have to climb even higher than the drop I'd just gone down. I lost count at how many hills I had to climb, it seemed endless and added to the battering I was getting from the strong headwind and rain you really do learn a lot about yourself and your ability to push on and never quit.  


Then after about 35 miles of this constant bombardment came 35 miles of a very hilly forested region around Bessines-sur-Gartempe.  After cursing and shouting at the person in charge of the weather I slowly made it up even bigger and higher hills until I reached the peak at a little over 500m above sea level.  At this stage I was also pretty annoyed as at this time of year the prevailing wind should have been from the north which would have helped push me up the hills, but it was still a firm headwind from the south as it had been every day so far. 


It was halfway up this climb that I made a promise to myself that if I ever decided to do anything as silly as this again I'd buy a map first and then check where the bloomin' hills were to avoid all the climbs!  I'm guessing that's something proper cyclists do, but I'm guessing no cyclist would travel without a proper map anyway, that would be mad!  However it was too late to stop or change route now, I'm half way there....

hilly gps

I count over 20 sizeable hills up to 500 meters high on the GPS record below...

I eventually made it into Limoges where I all but collapsed.  I'd cycled 73 miles which would be hard enough, but I'd also climbed a total of 1620m which is nearly 300 meters higher than the highest mountain in Britain. I was not expecting this kind of terrain here and it's not something I was expecting to do on this bike, although, for a first nothing broke today which I am completely amazed about, the bike must love the familiar UK wet weather!

wet bike

For more detail on route click HERE.

day 8 route

(© google maps)

Day 9. The mind game.... it's either me or the bike. (Monday 6th October)

October 6th, 2014
Distance 75 miles 657 miles (1058km)
Height gain 1227 metres 8598 metres (28208ft)
Calories 3000 25000

I set off on another cold wet day but had hoped the rain would stay off as it was cloudy but it had not rained so far this morning.  I spent a little time in the centre of the pretty little town of Limoges, a big town but one that still had a number of Tudor style framed buildings.  In contrast to those from a similar period in the UK, these were not a striking back and white, but a softer dark brown and pale yellow.


But it was time to head off and before long and rather predictably I was climbing up another massive hill immediately after leaving town. Halfway up the 400m hill with a 140m climb I had to stop and cover the bike as against my hope it started to rain and the wind picked up again. At one point the head wind was so strong that not only did I have to keep cycling while going down a steep hill to maintain my momentum but also on a subsequent flat bit I could barely put enough pressure on the bike peddle to push the thing forward.


Almost immediately after climbing the 140m to the summit it was straight back down again 140m where all I could see infront of me was another even bigger and steeper 200m climb. This was exhausting and the tiredness, cold, wet, 9 days of constant headwind, constant valleys I have to go up and down, of which I've lost count, the crunching gears, the dodgy spokes, it was all getting to me and at this point I was now not convinced I could make this challenge.  I even took a video of the wet weather I was trying to cycle through but you don't really get the feel for how bad it was.  I didn't know who would quit first in this bizarre mind game, me or the bike, but then I got my answer...

After climing another short hill after the bigger 200m climb there was a heart wrenching snap.  The jolt of a piece of metal snapping went from my back wheel, through the frame to my pedals and handle bars where I physically felt the snap with a sensation such that I knew instantly what had happened.

another spoke

My rear wheel was badly buckled, another spoke had snapped making the wheel scrape on the frame as it went around.  I had to stop and do an immediate fix as to continue without doing anything could have written off the wheel completely. In the pouring rain I removed the old spoke and tried to replace it with one of the weaker thinner ones, but with cold wet hands, the temperature was about 8 degrees c, I couldn't get the plumbers tape to told and ended up destroying the spoke and damaging the thread of the cap that fixes the spoke to the wheel. 

I was emotionally rock bottom, soaked and shivering with cold. There was still 40 miles to go and I knew it would not be easy with 5 or 6 hard climbs, one of which would be very long and taking me to the highest point today at about 460m.  I would have to cycle up and down steep hills in the pouring rain and wind before I got to a big town where I could find somewhere dry so I could fix the wheel. All I could do was tighten the two spokes on either side of the broken one to bring the wheel partly back into shape and set off as gently as possible, slowly making my way towards Brive-la-Gaillade while trying not to put too much pressure on the bike.

GPS showing the hills continuing from yesterday....

hills continte from yesterday

I did pass stunning sights like the town of Segur-le-Chateau with its medieval stone and Tudor wood houses, all overlooked by a ruined castle overgrown with thick vegetation, but I had little heart to stop and take in the views.

segur le chateau

sur chat

In a little town called Objat I found a hardware shop where I could get some new plumbers tape as I'd ruined my supply, then I limped into Brive-la-Gaillade in the pitch black and heavy rain at a little after 8:30pm found somewhere to stay bought a whole roast chicken, ate it and thought what to do with the bike which was drying out next to the bed....

 For more detail on route click HERE.

day 9 route

(© google maps)

Day 10. How not to fix a broken wheel.... by breaking perfectly good one! (Tuesday 7th October)

October 7th, 2014
Distance 66 miles 723 miles (1164km)
Height gain 1194 metres 9792 metres (32125ft)
Calories 3000 28000

It has been said that the needs of the few sometimes outweigh the needs of the many.  This was the case with my wheels. It's clear that I can't get them fixed here without having a full spoke replacement and tuning which will take at least two days. Yes I am a lot further down the country than I ever thought I would be by this time but I'd like to keep the 2 days I've built up as a "health" cushion..... It's an age thing, just in case something drops off! So what to do..... 

When I woke at 8am the bike was dry so I decided to employ an old trick I used to use on my old racing bike. I had to sacrifice the integrity, balance and spokes of my front wheel (the many), so that I could replace the few that had broken on the back as I could not risk cycling with ever weakening and unbalanced spokes on the rear. The thinner spokes in the rear could not keep the same tension as the thicker ones and would lead to the collapse of the entire wheel if nothing was done.  The reason this plan should work is that with all bikes, most weight is on the rear wheel, it's even more so with this one due to its 1920's design, and although I carry up to 7 litres of water on the front (I sweat a lot ok!), this is nothing compared to Me and the luggage over the back wheel.

breaking a good wheel

But just as I thought I'd found a way to fix the wheel issues I couldn't believe it, after replacing two front spokes with the weaker ill-fitting ones, the thread made bigger and so fitting snuggly thanks to the good old plumbers tape, I could see the spokes were different lengths! The reason I hadn't seen this was because the rear spokes are just 2mm longer. This meant I could only tighten the spokes in the front so much for risk of extending into the inner tube and puncturing it.

I managed to get the front wheel running almost OK with just a small buckle, but I couldn't tighten the spokes anymore, tightening further may have also resulted in the plumber's tape failing and the thread slipping. However, this should be OK as it will only handle a fraction of the weight of the bike. Then came the back wheel which I had similar problems with, the spokes were too short so I had to hope again that the tape not only fixes the destroyed thread in the spoke cap I damaged yesterday, but also holds the little thread there is left to grip.  Again, the wheel is a lot better than it was, but there's still clearly a buckle which I dare not try to remove completely in case the threads slip under too much stress.  I still can't believe it though, who builds a bike with spokes 2mm different on the front and back!  It's just not practical but I guess someone may benefit... "financially."  Actually, having done a quick search, most new bikes have three different length spokes on a bike...... Madness!!!!!

But by 11:30 the deed was done and I was ready to head off and right on cue it started to rain and not only that, the route kicked off with yet another climb, it was a 250m climb over about 3 miles which probably doesn't sound like a lot.... but try it on this bike. To put that into perspective for those who've done the London to Brighton charity cycle ride, the climb over Ditching Beacon at the end is about 130m over 1.5 miles and most people walk that on normal bikes!  I took a break at the top at a little village called Chavagnac which had a lovely church which an ancient tower next to a bizarre memorial.


It turns out that all over the South West of France they have these things called Honour flags.  I thought that these had something to do with the French liberation but these things are just monuments to politicians and you see them in many little villages.  I think a direct translation of "Honneur a notre elu" means honour your elected!  It's basically a tall pine tree with most of its branches removed except a few at the top that leave a small triangle of branches.  Two tricolour flags are then placed on either side of the "message" which is written on a tricolour shield.  The masts are then put in front of an "elected ones" house or a meeting place.  It turns out this is quite traditional and goes back centuries...... but I can't find out why.......

After resting here I had another 4 climbs like this today on a varied route which went though very minor and disturbingly bumpy country lanes, through woods with slimy roads and on to the smooth "wheel friendly" but "lorries too close for comfort" main roads....  But the best of all was that as the day went on the sun eventually came out and the temperature went back up to a little over 20 degrees, bliss.

GPS showing the hills continuing for a 3rd day.... but only upto 350 metres!

they continue still


Although it was another hilly day, amazingly both wheels held and my bodging appears to have worked (although I'm hoping I'm not speaking too soon!) but it's worrying that the gears are definately getting much worse and I'm starting to worry that they are not going to make it again.  But after passing many beautiful hillside farmsteads and little villages I decided to call it a day after just 67 miles but 1200meters of climbs and spend the night in Cahors. 

In the hotel I added up the height of the climbs I'd done over the last three days.  Amazingly it takes me up to just 700m short of climbing Mont Blanc!


For more detail on route click HERE.

day 10 route

(© google maps)