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!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Day 6 Bar-Sur Aube to Langres

Sassafrassarassa GPS is what Muttley would say if he lived in the modern era.

I followed the GPS track down a quiet road, all the way down a beautiful hill where a dead end was demarcated by an electric fence. Obviously the farmer got fed up with cyclists following their GPS navigation systems through his land. Probably the same farmer who ran me off the road in his tractor, just 5 minutes earlier.

A few minutes commenting on his parentage was followed by several minutes climbing back up the same hill.

But I leap ahead of myself here. The started off cool and wet. Very welcome after yesterday's broiling. See the old man selfie for genuine raindrops on my glasses. These may have changed to tears by the end of the day.

I visited the dreaded Abbey Clairvaux, the important Cistercian Abbey which Napoleon turned into a prison. A sad place that eventually inspired Victor Hugo to write Les Miserable. It is a high security prison now so not very welcoming. Not much is left of the Abbey and I didn't want to see the areas where people were packed so tight that they called them chicken pens so left it at that. More on Clairvaux on the Daily Telegraph Website

The route following the River l'Aube is quite beautiful and there are several waterfalls to be admired through the raindrops on your glasses.

It was coming up to 1pm and I was pretty hungry and I eyed up my meagre stock of a peach and a flapjack. I decided to wait a little while and for a change luck was on my side as I reached a rather pleasant roadside cafe and swapped my peach for an omelette! Of course not quite swapped, the peach was ravenously wolfed down an hour later.

I have finally seem a sign! No, not that kind! This was a sign for the Via Francigena😰 so I'm on the right track.

A harvest in progress is always good to see. This one was followed shortly by the tractor driver incident so I have mixed feelings about the weetabix growers of France.

On the run in to Langres a fleet of cars were parading with tooting horns presumably to celebrate a wedding. Why one of the cars had a "Stig" figure hanging by the neck I don't know but that may be the famous Gallic sense of humour celebrating the demise of Top Gear.

I finally climbed up to the citadel at Langres after 52 miles and the first serious hills of the trip. Langres is a medieval fortified town and well worth a visit. I will sadly give it a miss.

Lastly I just had to come to Chez Nina for dinner. Absolutely delicious meal and Nina modified her menu for me! Easily the best meal of the trip.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Day 5 Sézanne to Bar-Sur Aube

What a long day!

I left camp at 8.30 knowing that the chances of getting a coffee or breakfast any earlier would be slim.

Turned out that I was only 4 miles from a decent hotel and restaurant. Sigh...

Bar-Sur Aube was the destination I chose for today and in my head it was reasonable but I must get my head examined! I booked a room while I had wifi in Sézanne so I had to stick to the plan.

Sézanne itself was very pretty and of course boasted a stunning church covered with buttresses. Leaving was sad as I'd had a very leisurely breakfast while picking my destination. Shrugging off the aches and pains, I sprung back on the bike and moved on.

This is champagne country so you can see the raw material before the French maidens stamp on them, adding sparkles and magic and creating a drink that I truly can't stand!

Contrast the pictures of traffic on the N4 with that on the local D9. You can see why I was anxious to get off it last night! Of course you have to share the quiet roads but most of the tractor drivers gave me a cheerful wave as they thundered by.

You can only imagine how much I was enjoying myself but of course that's when the drama began. I stopped to oil my chain because it was getting stuck during great changes. A close examination revealed a break in the chain so I had to remove a link. Make sure you carry a chain tool at all times. I've not had a trip for a while without needing one!

It was getting into lunchtime and I was simply dawdling, taking pictures. I loved the sunflower field, it reminded me of the hours spent digging and planting seeds in a garden that I won't see turn out this well.

Lunch was a nice egg salad under the shade of a walnut tree.  Why don't we line our roads like this?

As I finally reached the River Aube, I came upon an American armoured carrier, mounted and surrounded by flowers. I guess the French are forever grateful to them in this area unless they heard George Dubbya describing their cheese eating habits.

Finally I realised that I was not half way to Bar-Sur Aube and it was already 3pm. A mad race began in the baking heat of the afternoon. I overruled the GPS several times as it insisted on some strange bypasses. See the photo where it decided a loop was better than a straight line.

As I crawled into Bar-Sur Aube cursing my stupidity, it was 7.30pm and I'd coveted another 75 miles and most of them in the peak afternoon heat.

Tomorrow will be a shorter day. It has to be because I need to visit a pharmacy. Anyone know what's French for "chafing in my nether regions"?

Day 4 Paris to Sézanne

Today has been an odd affair. Terrible traffic as I headed out of Paris and then blistering heat ending up over 30C.
The endless pedalling was punctuated by the search for
a) coffee. Found it at a nice village where the only thing going on was a film crew. If the young lady I saw was a lead character then look out for a new version of Dexys Midnight Runners "Come on Eileen". Overalls are back in!
b) lunch. Nearly had it at the beautiful village of Mortcerf but it was closed - i keep forgetting that France closes for lunch.
c) bed. Ended up sleeping in the hammock after running out of energy.

70 miles is a long way when you have to deal with this kind of heat. Also, Sézanne, where I wanted to sleep, could only be approached via the N4 unless I used a long detour. The N4 looks something like the A3 between Guildford and London. You can in theory ride on it but the lorries are doing 60mph and that was not what I signed up for!

Oh I forgot to mention dinner: two plums and a nectarine. I hope you all enjoyed your jacket potato, rice and fruit salad at the Cancer Centre!

Strange noises in the woods last night. Something biggish judging by the crunching branches. Could it be a gruffalo? I did what you normally do if the toilet door doesn't have a lock. Hrmphed loudly and coughed. That sorted Mr Gruffalo!

Photos of someone trying to park where the crew were filming, Mortcerf closed for lunch,  Lescharolle closed since the 19th Century

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Day 3 Char to Paris

The hammock was very comfortable, so much so that I woke up late. No real incidents apart from someone shouting in the woods, in the middle of the night and in the middle of nowhere. I should have been worried but exhaustion allowed me to ignore it and go back to sleep.

The route I had so carefully planned for today was a disssaaasssaaaster darling! The middle of Paris is very difficult to get to on a bike. I somehow joined a very busy dual carriageway in the fast lane😠 and that sure scared the hell out of me! After I'd calmed down I worked out a quieter route and was mightily relieved when I eventually saw the Eiffel Tower.

My son Luke was there to meet me wearing a big smile of welcome. One of the photos does make it appear that the tower is leaning but I suspect that it may have been me falling over from the heat 33C is not comfortable cycling.

We had a slightly expensive lunch - water cost as much as a main course back home - but it was worth it to sit together all too briefly before splitting up for our own destinations.

The cycle paths in the middle of Paris,  along the Seine, are a very hard to follow and I struggled up and down the pavements and cobbles. Eventually I hit came off a pavement too hard and the result was a punctured back wheel. All the stuff I'm carrying is very heavy.

I don't know why people say the French are unfriendly. I had two people stop to ask if I needed help and one of them told me of a water fountain around the corner with cool Eau De Paris for free! Great idea! Changing my back tube was hot work in the heat!

While filling up with lovely, cool water I met a guy riding one of these solo wheel thingies. He was amazed that I was travelling to Rome and I was amazed that he wasn't falling over while doing clever tricks!

I eventually stopped for the night on the edge of the canal route on the Eastern side of Paris. A clean, cheap and friendly place. Dinner is en suite ala Des tonight. Bought from the shop across the road - pasta, veg and fruit. Nothing too foreign!

It is a very nice feeling being clean and washed and back in civilisation! But tomorrow may be a different story...

Day 2 Dieppe to Char, Val d'Oise

Char is set in the beautiful Val d'Oise so I'm near the outskirts of Paris. I found a good campsite in a forest and yes there are trees for my hammock! I've arrived a bit early at 4.30pm but the lack of recovery time from the wet and windy ride to Newhaven, the ferry journey, lack of sleep and the 85 miles covered today have all taken their toll.

Nina's Cancer Centre flags are still flying and are encouraging people to talk to me.

I met some very interesting cyclists in the ferry last night. One guy was on the last leg of a challenge - 4 cities in 4 days. 250 km per day! Starting from Luxembourg - Brussels, the Hague and London and Paris.

And there was a young couple staying off on a 1 year trip to Cape Town! Yet they felt sorry enough for me to sponsor me!

I was hoping for a shower tonight but I guess that will have to wait another day, for tonight I have the groan of the trees and the drone of mosquitos for company and they're not likely to complain about the smell!