Shut Up Legs

4 Jul

I apologise for being a little tardy with the blog this week. We arrived back from our road trip from Cerbere on the French and Spanish border to Munich on Monday afternoon and arriving at the same time was my gorgeous friend Sara who is on holiday in Europe so I’ve been a busy girl.

Well as you may or may not know…Markie made it! He rode roughly 20km more than he needed to because the hotels on some days weren’t directly at the finishing point so he completed about 740km and 18 cols (big ones…the van struggled to get up some of them) well inside the allowed time frame. As if that wasn’t challenge enough, France was hit with a heat wave last week and the guys were riding in 35 – 38°C each day and for between 6.5 – 8 hours per day.

I’ll give you a daily run down as it’s probably easier to present it this way. Mark is going to provide his version in a blog post of his own in the coming couple of weeks so it’s only from my point of view as a spectator, fan and support crew member. (Below – *=false name used due to fear of past haunting him)

Day One – Monday, 25th June 2012.
Course: Hendaye – Bielle, 190km – mostly flat terrain but definitely some kicks thrown in

As I had mentioned last week one of the guys who flew from Aus for the raid had his bike lost by the airlines so he was set up on my bike and had all he needed except shoes that fit. Even though I have feet the size of an elephant, he had ones the size of big foot so we found a bike shop and got there at 8:30am on Monday morning to get him some cycling cleats. This was my first time driving on a highway on the right side of the road so that was interesting being in a hurry and  a people mover. He didn’t take long to purchase and we made our way to the beach at Hendaye, the official starting point for the Raid. The guys all got their water, gatorade, gel packs, lollies, power bars and shoved them into their back pocket before getting their first “checkpoint stamp” in their booklet and then were on their way.
I went to the grocery store and stocked up on the food I was to cook and went in search of bags of ice for the esky, without success so it was then time to hit the road and meet the boys at the lunch point we’d decided on to get cooking. I was driving and driving and never passed them until about 9km from where we were meant to meet which wouldnt have given me enough time to cook but luckily there were loads of restaurants to stop in at. I got out of the car, parked, got the camera and waited for them to ride in and stop. I finally saw them coming and they rode by and hooted, I got a snap and then they kept going….um…so I waited thinking they were just going to some place they could turn around.
After 5 minutes I got back in the van and followed their cycling route only to catch up to them. Winding down the window im yelling out.. “WTF Markie, change of plans darl?” He hadn’t realised that was the place, just thought I was out to take some photos of them. So this threw a spanner in the works on day one. I drove ahead to the next nearest one horse town where there were a couple of pubs and we pulled in there for some lunch. After an hour and a half the guys were back on their bikes to continue on their sweaty way.
I met them a couple more times before driving ahead to the hotel and getting my little camper stove boiling up some water for pasta so they could shovel it in like savages as soon as they arrived to get the muscles recovering immediately in anticipation of the stress they would be put through the following day. They rode in to the hotel at 7:30pm minus one guy who had told them to go on without him as his pace was a bit slower. Turns out Steve decided to throw in an extra mountain because his incorrect maps led him the wrong way…lucky him.
That night it was eating, plugging in the next days routes into the GPS and hitting the sack for a shorter day on Tuesday but definitely not an easier one.

Day Two – Tuesday, 26th June 2012
Course: Bielle –  Bagnères De Bigorre, 110km via the Col D’Aubisque and the Col Du Tourmalet (2 MoFo climbs)

After waking up and working out the logistics of how it might be possible for me to join the guys for their first 27km of the day and the first real climb of the Raid, the Col D’Aubisque, we set on our merry way in a nice rotating paceline until we hit the mountain. Then it was every man/woman for themselves to ride up the 16.6km climb. Not having 190km already in my legs from the previous day (and possibly just because I am Awesome) I went ahead until I came to a split in the road. One street went down, one went up so I figured since we’re riding up the mountain I should probably go up so I got smacked with some 18% grade road which I pedalled (slowly) up for about a km to be faced with the road ending and being blocked off. Despite asking people if I was going the right way I was presented with blank stupefied expressions. Turning around and going the other way (who would have thought) I managed to just catch the last guy in the group. Mark and his mate Jorge* were well in front so I was working hard to catch up and try and overtake again.
After riding for a while and still nowhere in sight, finally I heard them yelling “Shut Up Legs” from the handbands I had made and I knew I was close. Finally catching up to them and riding ahead at around the 6km mark left to the top I was joined by a French guy who hung around like a bad smell and insisted on talking. I made nice until I had 20 flies annoying the shit out of me flying around my face and hands which I related to him (being the bad smell) and I told him I was no longer going to talk because I just wanted to finish the bloody ride in peace and quiet. I made it up around a corner where there were these awesome giant bicycle scultptures (probably not the right word) and knew it was the end. So thankful that I got to actually get a ride in and finish one of the climbs, it was only a few minutes before Mark and Jorge made it as well. We got a few happy snaps and I left them waiting for the others and rode back the 27km to the van with Rocco inside still parked at the hotel. Bad mother!
Getting changed in a rush with no chance to shower as they wouldn’t let me check out later, I was quite aromatic, but had no time to muck about as I had to catch up to them and meet them at the lunch spot. Tuesday got hot! Like 38 degrees hot and when I met the boys they were almost finished their lunch at an Italian restaurant so I shovelled down a panini so they could get going again.
With no time to ease into the Col du Tourmalet with any flat road, they got straight into the climb with pasta and pizza full bellies so from all reports weren’t feeling a million bucks until a few km’s in when the pain and heat were fresher in their minds than their overfed stomachs. Whilst they were on their way I whipped out the gas stove and got cooking another batch of pasta to be ready at the end of their ride, then jumped in the van to meet them up the climb and distribute liquid refills. They were all quite spread out and Jorge*was almost up the top and done and dusted by the time I got there. He absolutely smashed it and completed the climb in great time. Then Mark came up next and I ran down 500m or so to run alongside him for the final bit getting a bit teary from pride for him.
All the guys made it up, others feeling better than others, and then they descended into the next town where we were spending the night. Since not all hotels accept dogs Markie and I were staying in a different one to the rest of them. Off we went to the address we were given only to be presented with a private farm or camping (tent) sites…um…pretty sure I didn’t book either of those. I didn’t have a number for them on me and neither of us had data so we drove to another hotel to see if they could point us in the right direction. No one had heard of it and after driving around in circles…neither of us yet showered…for an hour we went back to the first address only to be met in an oncoming car who was out looking for us. We followed her back to the hotel which was not in the street on their website, and was not named what is was on it’s website or on booking.com – well done kids, that makes sense. Might want to address that in the future. So pissed off and tired we unpacked the van and settled in for the short part left of the evening.

Day Three – Wednesday, 27th June 2012
Course: Bagnères De Bigorre – Saint Girons, 150km, 5 cols (one affectionately renamed by the guys the Col de C**t, previously known as the Portet D’Aspet)


Repacking the van in the morning after grabbing breakfast in our room we drove down to the daily meeting point. Since we stayed 10km off the Raid track and there was limited space in the van to move the guys as well as all their belongings we decided to do a couple of trips so they didn’t need to cycle any further than necessary. Whilst Mark and Billy were in the car the other two set off to see how far they could get and warm up (crazy). After dropping off the first lot, I turned around to collect the clearly mentally affected only to be shoo’d away because they were happy riding to the starting point, which wasn’t flat mind you.
Anyway everyone met and was ready to go so off they chuffed to begin their 150km day. Making a number of stops to refill and refuel the guys didn’t seem to be doing too badly in the morning. Everything was going relatively smoothly and although Mark and Jorge were generally in front a little bit, at each of the stops they waited and were all caught up again.
Come lunch time it was 35 degrees and Steve decided he wanted a 3 course restaurant meal since it was his only enjoyment as the Raid really wasn’t flipping his skirt so he went off on his own while everyone else sat around in the shade for some more pasta. Jesus, I wasn’t even eating it and I was over it. I can only imagine how they felt about their choice of nutrients the past few days.
The guys didn’t really hang around as they wanted to try and tackle the last climbs and get done with the riding as quick as possible and get a bit more time to relax in the evening since it has been pretty minimal the last couple of days.
They seemed to not want me to hang around or stop too much after the Col du C**t stop so I went ahead to the hotel to check in and have the massage I’d booked myself and Mark in for at the hotel spa. As I approached the desk and attempted to find out which room we were in I was told our booking was the following night. No, really it wasn’t, so we rooted through previous email and they had appeared to have made a mistake. Unreal…small town, limited hotels, yet I needed to book 2 rooms and at ones which would take a dog. The last thing I wanted was the guys to ride into town and having to sleep in the van or not have anywhere to go so I got on it like a fat kid to a cake and found us a couple of rooms at a 2 star place only 200m from the initial one. Damage control complete. It wasn’t great but it had a bed without bed bugs so I was happy.
The guys came in a bit boisterous and helped themselves to beer out of their fridge and Ali-cooked pasta in their restaurant which was unoccupied and looked like a common area and well, the Frenchies who owned the place were furious and voiced their disapproval. Up to our rooms to watch one of the Euro Cup soccer games and enjoy the storm outside before it was lights out.

Day Four – Thursday, 28th June 2012
Course: Saint Girons – Prades, 195km, long long day with a few long climbs

Whilst Mark and I smashed a quick hotel breakie, the others picked out some crackers and muesli bars from the van and then they got on their way as it was a long day so if they didn’t get out early they may not have gotten down until after sun down (around 9pm there). I hung around the hotel for a little and went online to let the guys get ahead before I passed to see if they needed anything and went halfway up the first climb to wait. I got out the stove and pasta again (yawn) and read my 50 Shades of Grey whilst waiting for the guys to come by and refuel and the water to boil.
They’d all been past me whilst I was still waiting for this blasted spaghetti when I heard a couple of guys whistling and had obviously seen the number plate of our van being German and yelled “Guten Morgen.” I stood up and moved to where I could see them and said it back. Cyclists are a pretty tight group – there is a bond there and I would probably liken it to a fraternity. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re like, if you are in this group, than you are accepted and everyone is nice. So I was thinking maybe these guys had yelled out because they saw my bike on the rack attached the the van. So I turn around to look at my bike only to realise it wasn’t there. Oh shit. I ring Markie hoping he’ll answer even though it wasn’t expected because if I were riding a bike up a mountain there would be more chance of me throwing a ringing phone over the cliff than picking it up. Luckily he did though and rookie error, it was left at the hotel.
Good stuff – fancy an additional 70km drive, sure why not?! Once the pasta had finished I packed up and went back to where day 4 began, got my bike and then had to catch back up to them.
Since this was thrown into the mix, the agreed lunch spot was moved because I wouldn’t have reached the spot in time. The day…HOT – in the valley we were told it hit 43.5 degrees but the most the car thermometer got to was 38 so ??? who knows. Anyway I passed the guys and decided on the next little town where I could park the van we’d meet. Jorge was ahead about 10 minutes as Markie had stopped for water, then Billy about an hour behind and Steve, well, we couldn’t get in touch with him and his dinosaur GPS/tangible map had sent him arse about town once again we found out later.
The guys were absolutely rooted and were only half the distance in to their day, or just over, at lunch time. Reluctantly Markie and Jorge got back on their bikes to begin the remainder which was straight into a climb but then it should have been a pretty nice decent before they hit the next big climb. Billy having come in to lunch later hung around struggling for a while and then headed off. One more refill at the top of the first post lunch climb and then I was off to meet the guys just before the last climb of the day. Once they made it up that it was a 40km descent and flat ride into the hotel town.
On that stop Markie was in a bad mood since on the descent they had been hit with a head wind so actually had to work and pedal to get down the hill. The roads were really open so there was no shelter from the wind and having had Rihanna annoy the bejeezus out of him on my shuffle he was using that week, it was almost as if the straw that broke the camel’s back. Meanwhile energizer bunny Jorge (something’s wrong with that kid) managed to get Mark to snap out of it and suck it up to continue up the final climb.
After meeting them up the top once more, I drove back down to fetch Billy to see if he needed refuelling. We were still missing and had not heard from Steve at this stage either so it was a mystery what was happening to him. When I did find Billy he was on the side of the road gasping for air, stopped, delirious, speechless. He jumped in the van where I had the air conditioning pumping and he was in heaven and also about to fall asleep. I let him sit for 15 minutes before signalling he could make it at the town by 9pm if he got going which should be light enough.
With the intentions of driving to the hotel to meet the guys who would have arrived by then, checking in and then going back for Billy, I received a text message 30 minutes later from him telling me he was pulling the pin. He was 6km from the top of the final climb of the Raid and then it was a breeze into town but his vision was blurred and he just wasn’t able to muster up the energy or determination…so  sadly we had our first casualty.
I got into town and the one beer Mark and Jorge had had went straight to their heads and they were behaving like giddy school girls. We sorted out our hotels and then Jorge jumped in the van and drove back up the mountain to fetch Billy.
Markie and I wandered into town for a nice 3 course non-bloody-pasta meal. Since it was a short last day of riding for Friday Markie decided to have a steak and some fries and vegies, ice cream, and a glass of wine as a little pre-celebration meal. The guys arrived back from the mountain and we finally heard from the 4th Musketeer who had ventured over another 12 mountains, around 4 lakes, popped over to Mars quickly and then arrived really quite late at the right town in the end.
From here it was home sweet home, just after they completed 90km so we planned to leave early in the event of something going wrong. Bed time…thank God it’s almost over.

Day Five – Friday, June 29th 2012
Course: Prades – Cerebere, 90km, Flat and downhill mostly with just a little sting near the end to keep them honest

Up in the morning and we had forgone a hotel breakfast as the golden arches was across the road and they thought they’d have a good solid hotcake and maple syrup breakfast. Alarmed that at 8am Maccas was shut, the guys got into the last of the pretzel sticks, chips, crackers, muesli bars, bananas etc so set them up for a nutritious last ride.
I had human company in the van with me as Billy still didn’t feel up to riding any further even though completing the Raid in it’s entirety was out, he could have still ridden to the end for the hell of it. I was excited by this as I thought I might be able to finally get off my arse and join the guys but Billy wasn’t comfortable driving on the right hand side of the road and still was seeing four, I reluctantly drove yet again.
We met the guys at the 25km mark where they didn’t need us and so went ahead to the 70km mark only to be contacted to turn around as Mark had broken a spoke on his bike. Trying to manoeuvre out of this one-way-streeted town was diabolical and we were going around in circles for a good 10 minutes with me stressing as they were still on a time limit to completion.
Got to the guys in the end and Mark swapped a wheel out with one from my bike (which was on the back today) so it ended up being better I didn’t ride. It was a quick pit stop wheel change and they were on their way once again with instructions for us to just meet them at the end. Off we went and checked Billy in to his hotel and he got comfortable, whilst I parked the van and bought a bottle of champas for the guys to pop and start celebrating immediately.
Waiting in anticipation with the camera I just felt so much pride for these guys having achieved what they set out to do and such a great challenge in not ideal conditions. It was so great to see them ride down shouting out in relief, happiness, pleasure, pain and God knows what else they were feeling at that exact moment. Perspiration hugs and kisses were shared around and the guys went straight into their last checkpoint to get their stamp and it was bums on seats for beers and the champagne followed by a nice long boozy seafood lunch.
After we all went our separate ways for a couple of hours for a swim and shower we met up again and drove over the border to Spain for some tapas and a celebratory dinner. Mark and I had planned to stay an extra day and night in Banyuls Sue Mer (next little village along from Cerbere) to enjoy the beach and sunshine but the others were all taking off the following day so it was bids of farewell to everyone before we went and enjoyed a nice long relaxing sleep in.

Saturday we finally had some time to ourselves and had a lazy morning, then went into town for another boozy lunch with an enormouse seafood platter and spent the afternoon resting and relaxing before getting up to feed our faces yet again at the hotel restaurant which was actually quite good. Sunday it was time to pack up the van again and begin our 9.5 hours on the road to Lake Como which with the pit stops for gas and toilet breaks etc along the way saw us arrive around 11pm. We didn’t get to see anything that night because it was already dark and since Markie was working half day from home on Monday we were off early the next morning after a quick peek at the Lake and Colico, the town in which we stayed.

After driving 4100km in 10 days I am stoked to be home again, out of the van, having a toilet instead of finding sheltered areas along the mountains, and cooking in a kitchen.

Thank you to everyone who donated to Shake It Up Australia and sponsored Markie on his challenge. We have raised $970 which is fantastic and it’s still open for another week should you wish to contribute now he’s actually made it, you can.  http://www.everydayhero.com.au/mark_hodges

Yep – this has been a long post I know so if I haven’t put you to sleep and you’re still with me – thanks a million. I’ll let you know when Mark blogs about the actual riding portion so you can relive the pain and pleasure he went through last week.

Till next time…..xx

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