Ride for Life

Topsham to Venice in Aid of Cancer Research

June 11-28th, 1997

The end of a long but beautiful road!


Estimated Total Mileage: 1111 miles/ 1833 km

Actual Total Mileage: 1123 miles/1853 km

Total Hours in the Saddle (actually cycling): 72 hours 56 minutes

Number of Days Cycling from Topsham to Venice: 15 days (we had two whole rest days en route)

Overall Average Cycling Speed: 15.4 mph

Maximum speed: 42.6 mph (on the first day)

Days per bicycle: Touring bicycles (Mercian and Bob Jackson) 6 days; Racing bicycles (Orbit America) 9 days.

Best Moment: On top of Mont Cenis after the morning's blizzard in Lanslevillard.

Worst Moment: When we found ourselves suddenly in the middle of a 6-lane motorway around Chambery.

Best Rides: Day 5 -- Up the Loire from Orleans to La Charite (MM); Day 12 -- The ascent of Mont Cenis, then down into Italy (NG).

Terrain: Covered all degrees of difficulty, ranging from flat river valleys to undulating stretches over sometimes gentle, sometimes savage ridges and plateaus, up to the most demanding and steepest alpine climbs.

Weather: On the whole unsettled, with some rain on most days, but with relatively cool temperatures that were ideal for cycling, and which meant we never suffered from heatstroke or dehydration. There were moderate to strong winds for much of the ride, sometimes favourable, but more often than not against us, especially on the final days in Italy when a fierce east-northeasterly was set hard on the nose.

Bananas Consumed: Actually not that many! The banana legend, as originally explained, was chosen to symbolise degree of difficulty based on terrain, prevailing conditions as we encountered them on the day (weather and traffic), as well as on our subjective enjoyment of the ride taking into account physical pain or discomfort (though some of the hardest rides were also the most enjoyable and memorable). We enjoyed (and sometimes only just endured):

4 easy days to

4 easy to moderate days to

3 moderate to hard days to

4 very hard days to

Narrative: The longest way round, it is said, is the shortest way home. It has certainly been a long way round, but we are now back home in Topsham and the sun is shining. We've travelled a very long way over roads that have not always been easy or smooth; we've seen some wonderful and beautiful places and sights; and we've climbed some personal mountains along the way: but, as always, it is very nice to be home.
What a great ride, indeed what a great journey it has been and what an enjoyable experience, made all the better by sharing it with so many of you who have followed our progress live along the way.
The cycling itself went as well as could be expected: we stuck to our target itinerary closely, and even at times managed to get slightly ahead of ourselves. The route, as worked out with Kim Millon, was a magnificent passage across France, and our overall mileage to Venice, in spite of numerous detours and minor changes to the route, worked out at only 12 miles more than Kim's original estimate, which is quite remarkable.
Most of our rides were on the whole enjoyable, though our biggest problem was not the degree of difficulty of the terrain but the traffic as encountered on French and Italian minor and major trunk roads. We of course tried wherever possible to find alternative routes on small country roads, but the necessity of reaching a destination precluded the luxury of taking scenic and quiet roads at all times, and indeed, we often found ourselves on traffic-choked roads that were quite frankly at best unpleasant, at worst downright dangerous. The terrain, on the whole and with the exception of the mountains, was manageable: our training in hilly Devon had prepared us well and -- apart from the Alps -- there were few areas we encountered that presented such severe and sustained challenges as riding around our own local cycling grounds here. That said, the flatter and more gently undulating terrain did require different cycling disciplines, and the pay-off of flat plains was often headwinds that kept us from ever being able to wholly relax and take things easy.
A word about our banana legend. It is impossible ever to be absolute about degree of difficulty, which is, of course, a wholly subjective judgement. Our first day's ride, for example, from Topsham to Poole by way of Newton Poppleford, Lyme Regis, Bridport and Dorchester, was definitely one of our harder rides, but the euphoria of finally setting off on the road meant that it was also a wholly enjoyable one. Moreover, on a one-banana to five-banana scale, I was wary of overrating that initial ride, with all of France and Italy still ahead of us. Thus, we gave it three-bananas, but in retrospect, it was probably worthy of at least three-and-a-half, maybe even four. This initial marker coloured all the subsequent ratings as we compared them mentally against that initial day's ride: thus, a number of the longer rides were given lesser ratings which might suggest that they were mere 'pootles' though this was in fact far from the case.
Anyone who has followed Ride for Life will know by now that the cycle itself was actually only one (albeit very important) aspect of the project. The target of raising funds, primarily for Force and Imperial Cancer Research Fund, provided at least as big a challenge as the Alps themselves, but we are delighted that while we have been away, the money has still kept on coming in and indeed is still coming in (it is not too late to make a pledge even as you read this now): we hope to be able to report our grand total very soon as well as present cheques to our very worthwhile beneficiaries that in total will be well in excess of our initial target of 13,000.
Food and wine have been important aspects of Ride for Life from the outset, and have certainly been the main themes of all our fundraising activities. On the ride itself, therefore, it should have come as no surprise that with Nello and myself as main protagonists, that preoccupation has remained central. Cycling hundreds of miles, after all, works up a pretty prodigious appetite (our support drivers Ugo -- sorry, Hugh, the name seems to have stuck -- and Harry said the same thing about all that driving and supporting). Fortunately, Nello was never too tired at the end of a long day's ride to prepare something really special and delicious (with Brother Harry as a willing sous chef), and his good humour throughout was infectious. Indeed, travelling across France and Northern Italy and enjoying meals based on local foods and produce prepared professionally and with Nello's inimitable style has been a wonderful experience in itself, and we hope that some of you have enjoyed following this aspect of our journey as much as our cycle rides! I should perhaps mention that out of deference to our banana legend for the rides, Harry devised his own scale based on grunts -- from one to five -- to denote satisfaction with a particularly delicious or satisfying food or meal: I particularly recall one tarte aux fraises that was hors classement, that is, clear off Harry's grunt scale.
A word about this trip diary, maintained and downloaded live (or as near as live as we could manage without killing ourselves). This too has been a not inconsiderable challenge in itself, and one which I could not have managed without the constant day-to-day support of Hugh.
Using the most basic equipment -- a Macintosh Duo laptop, an Apple Quicktake digital camera, a US Robotics modem, together with adaptors, connectors and cables -- we managed, at times it seemed almost miraculously, to keep you all informed and (on the whole with one or two exceptions) as up-to-the-minute as possible on our progress. But this was achieved not without a considerable degree of effort and at times dedication beyond the call of duty: such as the time I left Hugh lying on the floor of a campsite office (I believe it was Orleans), wires everywhere, the matron dying with curiousity to watch what was surely a first for her, as, like in the IBM tv commercial, we connected to L'Internet in her little box of an office. Her children were perhaps somewhat less interested, especially one particularly obnoxious three year-old who kept insisting on bouncing a football around -- or on -- Hugh himself, until in frustration he picked up the ball and threw it out the door. (In the picture right, I am downloading from behind the bar in Bar Rosetti, Alba -- customers kept asking me for drinks -- after meeting the town mayor and before setting off on the ride to Alessandria). For the number of downloads that were successful, there were at least as many that failed, for reasons that we are yet fully able to understand or fathom: but the experience of a successful connection and download -- that unmistakable high-pitched buzz and hum then pause as the modem hovers then mates with the server, the little doggie icon in Fetch running across the screen as it takes our files onto the World Wide Web -- gave at times as much exhilaration (almost) as climbing the Alps themselves.
Anyone who has followed Ride for Life will know that this has been wholly a team effort, and one which Nello and I could never have achieved on our own. I'd like again to thank Hugh and Harry for their magnificent support on the ride itself: you looked after us famously well and we certainly had some laughs and great times along the way, so thanks again for coming along for the ride (though we are still smarting from our defeat in our boules tournament: fiercely but fairly contested and which, after some 18 days, came down to the last ball thrown -- the prize two magnificent bottles of Monthelie -- and yes, it hurt).
In Venice itself it was particularly gratifying to have Jane Spree, our Project Leader, as well as Kim and Karen, and our families and friends on hand to meet us. The last several months have been so much hard work for everyone, so our few days in Venice were a most marvellous and enjoyable treat and made it all worthwhile.
When we set off from Topsham Quay, I stated that I personally was undertaking this ride in memory of my mother Lori, who lived in Venice and who loved Venice. My mother's spirit as well as the love and support of my family has been constantly with me throughout our journey, and though at times there were tough and hard moments, I certainly learned along the way that memory is not just about looking back, but about taking inspiration and courage in order to move forward.
And so, the end of a long but beautiful road and time to move on -- Avanti!
Cosa facciamo adesso, Nello? (Only kidding, Kim.)

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