Etape Caledonia

24th June 2007, starting and finishing at Pitlochry in Scotland.

This should be a hard one, 134 km / 83 miles with a total ascent of 2,078m / 6,817ft while maintaining an average speed of over 12mph. The event will provide a true test for experienced cyclists and those who enjoy a new challenge. It will also prove an attraction to those not currently cycling to get on their bike and rise to the newest fitness challenge in the UK.

The Ride and Results

Grant Crawley cycling in the 2007 Etape Caledonia

Considering it’s the wettest June in recorded history, I think we were pretty lucky that it rained for only the first 40 miles. The scenery was spectacular, closed roads were an absolute dream to ride on and heartfelt thanks must go to all the local residents of Pitlochry for allowing the event to go ahead. The originally stated distances were a bit off when compared to my GPS tracking device, which recorded 81.32 miles and 6,400ft of climbing, but I maintained an average speed of 15.7mph and finished the event in 5 hours 10 minutes and 13 seconds.

The winning time was 3:48:15, and the last place time was 7:28:24. My position was 633, out of 868 finishers, which considering I finished a cycle of immunoglobulin treatment 16 days before the start wasn’t too bad. Next time I hope to do much better, I was disappointed at not breaking five hours so I now have a target to beat.

Etape Caledonia finisher's medal
Finisher’s medal

Ride to Prague

5th May 2007

Well this is a long one, somewhere in the region of 700 miles each way. The aim is not to cycle the whole way, but to have a fun holiday – to that end, trains and B&B type accommodation will be used in conjunction with camping and cycling.

Waiting for the ferry at Harwich
Waiting for the ferry at Harwich

The planned route was to cycle to Wigan, where I get a train to London, then cycle to Harwich for the ferry to the Hook of Holland (Hoek van Holland). Then cycle across the Netherlands and Germany, until I meet up with the EuroVelo route from Berlin to Prague and then head south into Prague.

The trip actually turned out to be a bit of a farce from day one. The ride to Wigan went well, although the supposedly cycle-friendly gates on the canal route are only passable if you don’t have panniers. The Virgin train from Wigan North Western to London Euston arrived on time. However, because someone killed themselves on the railway line somewhere in the Milton Keynes area, the train stopped at Northampton and everyone had to get off. Most people continued their journey by bus, but since they generally don’t take bikes on the relief buses I was stranded. Fortunately, an hour later saw the arrival of another train that eventually left for London. I arrived at London Euston very late, and set off for Harwich, at Brentwood I decided that it would be better to use the train service again to try and get back on schedule. I left the train at Manningtree, and then cycled the remainder of the journey to Harwich.

Tied down on the ferry vehicle deck
Tied down on the ferry vehicle deck

The ferry crossing from Harwich to Hoek van Holland is very long and boring, and a good book would have been most welcome. Once in the Netherlands, I cycled from Hoek van Holland to Zoetemeer, but even this turned out to be more complicated than necessary. There were several diversions to contend with, and I couldn’t ride the route I wanted to take. Fortunately the hotel in Zoetemeer was good, and I got a good nights sleep. The following day I covered just over 100km to Veenendaal, but got extremely wet. It rained constantly from morning to night, and there were several points of the ride where it was impossible to see and the lightning was very worrying. All of my cycling clothes were wet, my sleeping bag and tent were wet and my Karrimor panniers proved to be useless in these conditions.

From here on it rained every day until three days before I was due to return to England. So my ride to Prague was completely washed out, I do at least now know that panniers are called fietssassen and Ortlieb ones don”t leak, and the dutch word for a launderette is “wasseretta”.

My plans got changed, but I managed to ride every day, and toured around the Netherlands. In total, I covered approx 1,000 miles over the two weeks.

Action 100 (2006)

27th August 2006, starting at Bristol (Temple Meads), via Chobham Rugby Club and finishing at London (Euston).

This is the first time I have ridden the Action 100, which despite being labelled as Bristol to London, doesn’t officially finish in London. So being the stubborn perfectionist that I am, I decided to extend the official route onwards to Euston station. Which, by the time I had diverted around the Notting Hill Carnaval, turned out to be 143.6 miles and caused me to nearly miss my train home, which left 30 seconds after I got on board.

The total online amount I raised for Action Medical Research for this ride is £245 (excluding gift aid), which is fantastic and sincere thanks go to everyone who sponsored me.

My online sponsorship account for this event is now closed.

Giro Intorno al Lago di Como

13th June 2006, starting at Capiago, a few kilometers southeast of Como.

When you think about riding around a Lake you immediately assume it’s going to be flat(ish). Well at least that’s what I thought, until I attempted this ride. 37¬į celsius in the shade, 8 litres of water and a lot of miles later and I can tell you it’s not flat. This is one heck of a challenge ride, and not for the faint hearted.

On the other hand, the scenery and spectacle of the lake make the ride worth every masochistic minute in the saddle. The only flat part is the northernmost end of the lake, but the flatness is short lived as you immediately climb to about 200m (650 feet). I climbed 3,387m (11,113 feet) in the day, and by the time I got back to Como I was absolutely exhausted. There was no way I could make it back to Capiago, so I called for help – which arrived in the form of Sabrina, my sister-in-law, in my hire car (which she’d been dying to drive anyway).

When I’m fitter, lighter, and have a car that can carry a bicycle I will repeat the ride and do a complete circumnavigation of the lake that includes the Lecco leg.

There is no way I will ever again put a bicycle of mine on an aeroplane in anything other than a purpose made hard case, after the damage the bagage handlers managed to do to the one you see in these pictures.

Castle Ride (2006)

7th May 2006, starting at Tonbridge Castle, the ride is a 100 mile circular route visiting five other castles in Kent.

You may think that Kent is quite flat, when you look at a map there are certainly no significant peaks. However, looks can be deceptive and Kent is far from flat, there are lots of small, steep hills to climb and the 100 miles is literally up and down all day long.

Having got my moan about the Kentish terrain out of the way, it should be balanced by the outstanding natural beauty of the county.

I took on this challenge ride with a colleague, and friend, from work. Gavin is a runner, and not a cyclist, but he agreed to give it his best shot. He did next to no training whatsoever, having bought his bicycle just over a week before the ride and had only ridden 35 miles the weekend before. I congratualte him on his sheer determination to finish the ride, which he did. Which just goes to show that provided you have enough determination and will power you can ride 100 miles in a day.

My online sponsorship account for this event is now closed.

London to Paris (2005)

This was my first charity bike ride, 300 miles in 4 days arriving in Paris in time to see Lance Armstrong win his 7th and final Tour de France. I did the ride for Action Medical Research, after my mother’s partner found their advert in the Sunday paper and raised ¬£2,739 to help them fund more research programmes.

Day 1 – London to Dover

The day started quite cool, setting off from Blackheath, and riding southeast out of London. The route took us to Rochester, across the river Medway and then down narrow country lanes all the way to Dover. After the initial coolness in the morning, the weather warmed up, and the day turned out to be a scorcher. Not necessarily the best thing for a long-distance cyclist, but welcome nonetheless. Some of us, me included, missed a turning and ended up doing about 30 miles extra.

Day 2 – Calais to Abbeville

After getting the ferry across the channel, we set off for Abbeville. Today was another hot one, and the tarmac actually felt to be sticky, making the going very tough indeed in some places.

Day 3 – Abbeville to Beauvais

Pretty much the same as the ride from Calais, but a little cooler.

Riding through northern France

Day 4 – Beauvais to Paris

From Beauvais we cycle to the lunch rendez-vous, from there we cycled into Paris in groups of around 20-30 cyclists, working on the principle of safety in numbers. There was some question whether it would be possible to cycle round the Arc de Triomphe, as it happed we needn’t have worried. It’s certainly an experience I will never forget, riding round the Arc and then down the Champs-√Člys√©es. I attempted to video this last bit, but the cobbles made the video extremely shaky so it’s not the easiest video to watch.

At the base of the Eiffel Tower for photos.

C2C Whitehaven to Tynemouth.

140 miles from Whitehaven to Tynemouth, the Sustrans C2C route. This was my first long-distance cycle ride, which I did on a bike I bought to get too and from work during the petrol crisis, it was a cheap Halfords mountain bike and is really heavy, but also very sturdy.

My Halfords Apollo Frenzy

The route itself is stunning, you ride through some of the most beautiful scenery England has to offer, it’s challenging and in some places downright hard work.

Day 1 – Whitehaven to Keswick

Day 2 – Keswick Sightseeing

Day 3 – Keswick to Langwathby

Day 4 – Langwathby to Allenheads

Day 5 – Allenheads to Tynemouth