Thursday, 24 June 2010

Days 18 to 24

After a great afternoon spent eating steak sandwiches at the house of Felix (the most hospitable Toulousian ever) and having their bikes serviced by freindly Yorkshireman Phil (the best bike mechanic this side of the Swaledale), Team Graham cycled south out of Toulouse towards the forboding and mystical Pyrenees, which lurked menacingly in the jerking hearts of the team. The route was phenomenal, and completely unexpected to the team, who had spent the last two days in the haze of an urban wilderness. The team saw the faint silouhette of the mountains they were yet to tackle for the first time, which lurked like dark beasts of fury amassing on the horizon. With the steak sandwiches still bobbing up and down in the team´s stomachs, they ventured forth with great enthusiasm, unaware of the atrocities yet to besiege them.

On the 18th day, the Team awoke in a beautiful riverside setting, within the comfortable depths of nature´s bosom. They had experienced traditional French hospitality to the fullest in a tiny bar in Mazaria the previous evening, as plate after plate of gratuit pain, jambon et brie was served to them, as they witnessed a dismayed French football team lose to Mexico. Soon after awakening, a great tragedy befell the team. Team member Harry´s spokes were feeling slightly squew-wiff, and due to their repeatedly breaking, the team were forced to walk two disasterous kilometers to the nearest bike mechanic to recieve treatment. Typically, and honarably, the wise french mechanic didnt even charge for his services, and gave the team a spare wheel, which was regrettably worse than the original, leaving the fear stricken team to travel on foot another 5 kilometers to cycle passion where the bike fully recovered, and the team filled their stomachs each eating a whole baguette with brie and tomato to releave their stress. After 3 hours waiting on the world to change, the team cycled on, but these shinanigans had effectively cost them a whole day. The team arrived in Foix, and went to watch England play appallingly against Algeria, in a pub most likely owned by Algerians. They camped by a nice river, which provided water, and a place to wash in the morning.

The next day, the 19th of June, the team carried on towards Ax-les-Thermes. The scenery was of utterly unsurpased beauty for the excited team, who enjoyed outstanding views for the whole day, but as they approached their destination, the rain poured down upon them, and chilled their weary bodies to the bone. They arrived at the campsite soaking and miserable, even close to hypothermia, happy only to have a warm shower, and cook up some sausage and mash in the toilets before they retired to their wet and bedraggled tents. When they awoke, the path looked dangerous, and rather than risking passing through dangerous weather in the mountains, they spent the subsequent day restlessly and frustratedly waiting for the weather to pass.

On the 21st, the team awoke, ready for the challenge that faced them. The team climbed that morning to 2001 meters, 6565 ft, where despite the good weather, a wild wind raged around them at the snow-capped peak. The views were unreal, right across the moutains, where skiiers and snowboarders aplenty would be treading the same paths later that year. As they descended, they decided to take a short break from the smell of burning rubber emited by their scorching break pads, and a peculiar experience befell them. Team member Harry came across four wild horses on the road, which scarpered quickly as he approached. The team followed them down into a mountain pasture, and to their great surprise, as they came over a ridge, they walked down into an utterly surreal perfeclty green prarie, surrounded by steep cliffs, where around 20 wild horses were grazing, young and old. As a pregnant mother lay on the ground, with young foals gathering around her, the team comforted her, enjoying this bizarre moment together.. it was indescribable, and nothing quite like anything any of them had ever experienced. They arrived at a beautiful mountain lake later that day, where they made their bed for the night.

The next day, after more beautiful views and moutain climbing, the team crossed the border into Spain. Thinking that their mountain climbing was finished with, they approached the mouth of a 5km tunnel, only to be informed "no es por las blicicletas," when they realised that they would again have to climb to nearly 2000 meters. Despite the difficult task, the route was amazing, and travelling downhill for miles, the team enjoyed some of the best views they had yet witnessed. Staying again in a small field, the team reflected that these were some of their greatest days.

The team pushed onthe next day, having breakfast in a small Spanish town, where team member James illustriously recorded the local sounds on his hand held recording device, Yamaha PocketrakCX (See You!). Tom had a clumsy yet somewhat comprehendable with the local retailer, who almost persuaded the team to eat her chorizo for breakfast. Politely refusing, they carried on, still enjoying beautiful views, which were unfortunately slightly marred by the main roads the team were forced to tackle. Yawning mouths of dark hungry tunnels swallowed the terrified team again and again, who were adrift in a black mournful ocean of diesel. They enjoyed the downward sloping gradent for the remainder of the day however, and arrived in Taradell, to watch England play far better football than they had yet against Slovenia, retiring to another secluded field, which happened to be abundent with fresh wild thyme, which naturist James "Green-Fingered" Graham enthusiastically hoarded in his small plant collecting pouch.
After a herb-infused tortellini dish, the team were unfortunately deprived of another night´s sleep by the lound BANG of firewords, and the music of a fiesta, which ran late into the night. Why weren´t they there? Possibly because they deleriously imangined that they were still drifting through the dead and silent ghost towns of southern France, where not much ever really happens, and as much as a dog barking is considered an annual event.

The next day, the team ventured south, what a surprise. After many ups and downs, they finally arrived at the coast, just north of Barcelona, where desperate and deprived shrieks of happiness were emitted by the team at the prospect of a wash beckoned them, as the Mediterranean Sea peeked its cheeky head over the horizon. After 14 days of landlocked cycling, the team gratefully inhaled the fresh sea breeze. The ride toward the coast was hardly a chore, as the team wound down breathtaking mountain roads for miles, with only the cool refreshing water waiting for them at the end of the road.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Days 9 to 17

Day 9, the team relaxed in La Rochelle for a day, giving themselves some time to write the blog, buy some necessary materials, and perform some vital bike maintenance. The team happened to stumble upon some nice ladies from West London, who there and then donated €20 to the Pahar Trust. After getting all their jobs done, they had a few cheeky Grafenwalders a la plage, and maybe a couple of bottles of wine. The merry team strolled home around ten, chatting jovially in a mix of poorly spoken French and broken English to some nice French ladies they bumped into.

Day 10, the team left La Rochelle early in the morning with high hopes and wild dreams. Only 20 miles in however, a huge thunder storm broke over their heads, drowning the afore mentioned hopes and dreams. However, despite having to shelter under a tree from the torential rain, the team's spirits were high, as the situation was somewhat amusing. However, after the storm had subsided the skies remained grey, and as the second storm broke the teams sense of humour began to fail. Luckily a farmer found them and invited them in to his metal workshop, where they waited until they could continue. They happenstanced upon a group of Irish lads cycling from Galway to Morocco, who can be found at outside a hypermarket, and the two teams swapped stories, tips, and shared experiences. The day ended well, the team finding a beautiful secluded spot on the beach to camp on, and with some cheap steak bought earlier that day, cooked up another tasty dish.

Day 11, the team pushed on cycling another 63 miles, leaving the beach and going through Royan, Mortagne Sur Griande and arriving at Jonzac. The world cup having already began, the team were invited to to watch France draw 0-0 with Uruguay in this guy's caravan. He was very engrossed, and shouted "Ecouté! Ecouté!" as the team discussed footballing matters.

Day 12, the team cycled roughly 78.49 miles between Jonzac and Burgerac, the furthest day's cycling yet, and perhaps the most beautiful. The views were wonderful, but the hills were high and long, and the team relished the last 15k of flat along the river Dordogne. Leading down to that last stretch of flat, there was a long winding downward slope, and the team enjoyed fantastic views and beaming sunshine after an arduous day's work. Someone had even written "Je T'aime" across the road. After pitching their tents and going to watch the England game and drinking a very expensive but well deserved pint, the team returned to camp to find that their tents had been ransacked. Was it the owner of the site telling us to move further away from the flooded river, or was it the local canadian geese population? They will never know. Luckily however, nothing had been taken. The team spent the subsequent day 13 relaxing in Burgerac, having cycled nearly 200 miles in the previous three days. This affected the team quite strongly, and morale was low, the weather having taken a turn for the worse, and the only available breakfast on a dimanche being a kebab and a beer... it was grim.

Day 14, the team cycled on another 50 miles, through wet and grey conditions, ending up knocking on doors for a place to camp. After trying only three times, they were taken in by a lovely French woman and her husband, and allowed to stay in their garden. The hospitality shown to the team was immense, the neighbour even allowing the bedragled team to use his shower, saying that "Si tu fait du velo, tu est mon amis."

Day 15, the team pushed on trough another relatively uneventful day's cycling, up and down some harsh hills through grim weather, the day taking a turn for the better after some light cherry picking, and finding a camping spot in a Farmer's field in amongst some derilict buldings, cooking up a fantastic pork and vegetable stew. However, the team are still suffering from the large gangs of mosquitoes that attacked them there en masse, and haunted them throughout the night.

Day 16, the team cycled into Toulouse, making the mistake of riding their bikes into the metropolis. The team were lost before they found the campsite, and the weather was crap yet again. However it brightened up as the team came into the city, and had a look around for the afternoon. It couldn't stay sunny for long however, and as the team purchased their staple six pack of Graffen from the local Lidl, another huge thunder storm, perhaps the sixth or seventh they had endured, broke over them, forcing them to drink under a bridge. After this horrific ordeal, the team then missed the last Metro home, and heading into a Pizzaria to warm themselves, were offered a lift home by Felix the absolute G, who offered them a free Kebab which the team will enjoy around noon today, when he discovered the mission that they were on.

Day 17, the team have come into Toulouse for the morning to update the blog, and are pushing on south towards the Pyranees after heading to Felixes to start the journey with a nice greasy chicken donner and chips.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Days 5 to 8

After Cousin Andrew had given much help and advice regarding the cycles, the team cycled 47.43 miles south of Plancoet accompanied by honorary team members Uncle William, and his accomplice David. It was a good ride, which left everyone tired but satisfied. The team cooled off in a picturesque river en reute, living on what has come to be their staple diet of brie, salami patè and of course le baguette. William's commitment to his farm animals only allowed him one day off, but in that time he taught the team an array of skills. Most importantly, the frequent application of talcom powder to one's sweaty derrier.

The following day, the original team members were left to fend for themselves once more, for the first time being completely without the prospect of any outside help. They cycled south for about 55 miles, through Guer, La Chapelle Gaceline, Sixt-sur-aff, and Bains-Sur-Oust, which was where the team (after recieving an impromtu round of applause from the local football team) met the infamous and locally notorious Quiche Man. He approached Team Graham Quiche in hand, but with foresight the team had already purchased their lunch. They thus refused, much to Quiche Man's distress. The team thought that this would be the end of the incident, however, when they stopped for lunch in the next village, Avessac, Quiche Man rolled up in his Quichemobile. The enraged Frenchman hurled tirades of abuse at the weary travellers, saying that their lunch was inappropriate and would give them spots. He then tried to resell the sqme Quiche, which should have depreciated in value, at a higher price. Unaffected by the Man's insulting body language, the team cycled on to Savenay, where they found a bustling Sunday Market, eating pomme frites, cake, and drinking some delicious cider. Alas, Quiche Man had been foiled, and the team heard not from him again.

The team would like to assert that this behaviour is not in keeping with the rest of their encounters with the French, who have been consistently helpful, kind and accomodating, honourably providing directions, charity, and beacoup de l'eau glacé.

Team member James unfortunately contracted some kind of stomach bug, and threw up the nice cake he had eaten, but luckily recovered fully by morning.

The next day, the team cycled 63 miles south from Savenay, finishing in the Foret de Grasla. Awakening early, the team quickly found themselves adrift and thoroughly lost on the misty morning roads of the Loire Atlantique. After recovering their sense of direction, they powered through the morning miles, fuelled primarily by Lion Bars, not stopping for breakfast until they reached Coueron, 20 miles away, where they feasted on Pain au Chocolat, Pain au Raisan, fresh peaches and the like. Then the team travelled into the city of Nantes, to fix team member Tom's dodgy bottom bracket. The urban ride was long and stressful, the roads not being accomodating to weary bicycle riders. Emerging from the urban wilderness shaken but undefeated, the team travelled on to the deserted villqge of L'Herbergement where they dazzled the locals with their intentions of cycling to the far flung land of Northern Africa, which earnt them plenty of fesh cold water for the task which lay ahead. due to the lack of camping facilities the team were forced to travel further south and ended up camping in a forest off the busy D7 highway, which turned out to be a wonderful and comfortable refuge.

They awoke in a thunderous storm, which was not their first, and were foced to put their tents away in the rain. Despite the horendous weather conditions, moral was high in the camp, once the team troopered on further south to drier land. After petit-déjuner in Chauche, the team smashed 30 miles to Luçon in a couple of hours like Agatha Christie's son in a Back to the Future cop car. What lay ahead was deserted marshland and a howling gale that the team battled through at a measly speed. The sky was slowly turning black with rage and the team, lost in the vastness of La Vondée, were quite petrified. However, the arrived in La Rochelle and finally found the campsite after chasing aimlessly after Super U signs. They made sure they were fully stocked up with cheap wine and chicken, and returned to camp to make the best meal known to man with only a single burner.