Picos Original Riders

Picos Original Riders
Highlights of 2010

Last of the Picos Riders - to Rome Alone!

Our first two charity rides were a huge success - raising over £20,000 for the South East Cancer Help Centre.

The Centre does a fantastic job of supporting patients and carers at the most difficult times of their lives. They make a real difference and you could help them in their work by contributing to our fundraising. Donations can be made via JustGiving.comhttps://www.justgiving.com/Tom-Vaz/ or directly into the Centre. For more details of the Centre and their work see their website at http://www.sechc.org.uk/

After 3 years of rest it seemed time to dust off the old muscles, bones and sinews and do one more spectacular ride in aid of this fabulous charity.

This time I will travel alone for 25 days, mainly following the ancient pilgrimage route to Rome, the Via Francigene, covering a distance of around 1,400 miles.

The route travels through Newhaven - Dieppe - Paris before I eventually reach the Via Francigene in Eastern France. From then on it is pretty simple apart from having to cross the Alps without an elephant!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Day 11 Martigny to Col Du Grand Saint Barnard

Up up and up! Is the the best way to describe the route today. Leaving Martigny I stopped to clean and oil my bike's chain and then began the long, long, long climb to the Col or pass.

I've climbed up mountains before in Spain and the climb has been up to this kind of altitude difference as well but today was VERY hard. Martigny was at an altitude of 450m and the pass at St Bernard is 2473m so I've gone up around 2km in 40km. That's an average 5% climb over the whole day. With the heat and the luggage, the lack of any break over 12 days and all the other really good excuses that I'm still saving up, it is no wonder I am completely knackered.

Anyway, let's start from the beginning.

Around 1050 the archdeacon of Aosta established a hospice at the high point of the pass to help travelers who were being terrorised by bandits and struggling with harsh weather. The archdeacon, Bernard of Menthon, later Saint Bernard, gives his name to the pass now and is patron saint of the Alps.

The pass is historically the most famous route through the Alps to Italy so was much used by pilgrims and other travelers since Roman times.

Presumably these pilgrims had more sensible means of travel than a bike loaded with ridiculous amounts of luggage. Despite a hard look at what I was carrying, all I've dumped were my guide books (unused and useless) and my bottle of massage oil for which my aching knees are cursing me.

The Saint Bernard dogs are known all over the world for their work as rescue dogs and there’s an iconic image of Saint Bernard dog finding the lost traveler and reviving them with a shot of brandy from a cask around their neck.

This is not true unfortunately, however the dogs were used for mountain rescues because of their strength and ability to pull heavy loads. These days Alsations have taken their jobs because they're easier to train. However, the iconic St Bernard is still bred down the mountain in Martigny and brought up to spend the summer at the hospice at the pass - hospice I think means monastery in this context.

The monks however own the Auberge that I'm staying in and in their honour, the bar serves 35 different types of Trappist beers. After a day of dehydration I decided I'd earned one glass of beer and that was enough to become very tipsy before mass with the monks! I confess to almost falling down the stairs on my way to mass but sobered up enough to blame an invisible speck of dust when I saw a lady giving me a hostile look.

So going back to the part of cycling up the mountain, I was a bit appalled when I looked at the altitude map on my Gamin GPS. It showed me a full day of climbing ahead. I knew the damn Alps were out to get me!

I could see the train alongside me but that was of no use as it goes straight through to Aosta in Italy. However, in the spirit of confessions who would mind me using the bus service if I got desperate? Fear not dear sponsor, I stuck to pedalling my way up the Alps and took plenty of photos to prove it.

Idyllic Alpine scenes where nobody would know of my agony. Stops for Coca Cola and a sandwich even. I knew that I was expected to call the Centre to tell the members how I was getting on but:

a) I could hardly string two words together because of the dehydration. 

b) One of those two words would have been "off" as I was really not enjoying the climb!!!

I did literally squeeze the sweat out of my head band at some point. I know some of my female colleagues would approve of the hygiene considerations shown there.

The traffic really thundered in the snow shed and even a small car sounded like a flock of trucks. At one stage I came out of the snow shed to find a heap of rotting bikes. Maybe the owners had given up and gotten on the bus or like in the holy places they may have been cured?

Eventually after much sweat and tears and the odd use of bad language it was time to look back at the spaghetti loop of tarmac that I had traveled up. I even had time to enjoy some flowers growing in a pond in a loop of the road before eventually I reached the pass.

Here's the lake separating Switzerland from Italy and the obligatory picture of me with the Centre flag which is still attached to my pannier. I hope that's a smile on my lips, after all the recent, hurtful comments I was practising all the way up the mountain!

Only 28 miles today but 2km vertically which must count for something!


  1. Tom Scenery looks amazing. Very jealous. Wish I was there. Brian

  2. Wow, your photos are absolutely stunning and like Brian I have to admit to being a tad jealous but not of the physical endurance. Glad to see the flag has survived and more importantly you're able to tell the tale. Carol

  3. Tom, your female colleagues would be happy to buy you a new outfit "IF" you promise to leave "ALL" your sweaty stuff behind in Rome!!!

    Your female colleagues are also delighted that you have made it to top of the Alps alive in one piece. Take care of yourself and enjoy your well earned day of rest today for the first time since you left Purley!