Ae7 – Back in the UK

Crossing the Thames at Gravesend

Crossing the Thames at Gravesend

It feels like so long ago now yet we’ve only been back for a couple of weeks. It’s funny how getting into a routine again makes the trip seem like a distant memory … damn reality!

Wheeling the bikes onto the ferry in Calais (you’re not allowed to ride them on for health & safety reasons?!) we were on a high and we cracked open a bottle of wine to celebrate getting through Europe.

Louise enjoys the views ... well the hedge!

Louise enjoys the views … well the hedge!

A short journey across the water and we rode (sorry wheeled!) our bikes off the ferry and made our way into Dover. This was the first place I was based many years ago when I joined the Army as a very young soldier and to be honest it’s not changed much. A quick search on the now active mobile phone and we booked into a local Hotel/Hostel that was only 0.5km from the port. A few minutes later we found the Alma Hostel & Cafe. WARNING: NEVER STAY HERE!! We were greeted (I use the term loosely) by the rudest hotelier I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. A foreign gentleman who went ballistic at us because we wouldn’t leave our bikes unchained outside on the main road overnight. We exchanged some pleasantries and departed to another B&B nearby. I won’t go into all the detail but lets just say it wasn’t quite the welcome back to the UK we had anticipated and I was genuinely waiting for the little Beadle’s Abouts bloke to jump out and say “got you!”.

So onwards with the ride! We departed Dover with an unromantic view of the town, no offense to the good people that live there but when you see charity shops having closing down sales you know somethings not quite right with the place. We climbed a steep hill up towards the Old Park area I remember from 26 years ago and joined the A2 to get some distance. Now, we’ve both been in some scary situations before but after 12 miles of the A2 we both let out a huge sigh of relief when we slipped off onto some back roads. The traffic on this road is a nightmare and it really is Russian Roulette riding along it. We both got the feeling that it was only a matter of time before something happened and we’ve never felt that tense on any road during this trip. It was tragic to read only a few days after getting back of the charity riders killed on another main road in the south of England and we both felt a deep sadness reading about it.

Passing poppy fields in one of the Shires!

Passing poppy fields in one of the Shires!

Once we did get onto the smaller roads we soon perked up and started to enjoy the English countryside and the quieter rural parts of the journey. For the next few days we rode when we could on these smaller roads and avoided the main roads like the plague! The weather was kind to us, we made good speed and enjoyed a lot of the journey as we peddled through Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire … trying not to go all Lord of the Rings here with the Shires! On this part of the journey we also found a brilliant place to stay when we discovered the cycle friendly Toll House Bed & Breakfast. NOTE: GREAT PLACE TO STAY! Now considering this is only a few miles from Standstead Airport it is amazingly quiet. I’m trying to think of the best way to describe our room! It was essentially a really big wooden hut that was tastefully decorated, comfortable, warm and roomy. The doors opened onto the lush, well manicured gardens and it’s run by a really nice friendly couple who couldn’t do enough for us. There is a hot tub further down in the garden and it’s worth noting that the Tour de France will pass this way on the 7th July next year (book early!). What a pleasant change from the Dover experience!

Louise waves her hands above the bike to fix the puncture!

Louise waves her hands above the bike to fix the puncture!

Time was against us now and we had to put the head down and crank the pedals to make some distance. We rode onto Nottingham and spent the night with my Aunt & Uncle. The next day and after we ridden more than 1500km’s, we got our first puncture. Well, I did to be exact. Then I got another and not to outdone Louise joined in the fun!!! Three punctures in the space of 20km’s on the way to Sheffield. It’s always nice to be shouted at as you cycle and the UK seems to have a special love of shouting at cyclists. Could I just say however and I want to put this in writing … we do actually pay road tax for a vehicle even though we chose to ride our bikes on this particular trip. Just in case you’re one of the motorists that was wrongly thinking we don’t actually pay tax because we’re on a bike. I also love the change in expression a shouting motorist has when he’s (prodominantly it is a male pastime in the UK) shouted some unkind remark, then realises that the traffic lights ahead have turned to red and I’m suddenly switching lanes to come and say hi!

Back in Scotland!

Back in Scotland!

The next few days we found the most challenging (maybe Alps apart). We had been cycling for 3 weeks and knowing we were almost home, for the first time we started to count kilometres. We also knew that we both had to be back at work on the Monday. We stupidly used Google Maps to pick the most direct route through Yorkshire instead of spending some time looking closely at maps. Riding into Sheffield was fairly challenging with tired legs however the route we chose after that definitely pushed us to the limit! Those familiar with places like Haworth and other villages to the west of Keighley will understand the effort the muscles need to make to ride through them let alone after 1700km’s in the saddle. Little wonder le Tour is using roads around this area next year. We battled on though, stopping in the picturesque town of Settle. The next stage of our tour was north to Penrith and Carlisle. By this stage we knew we weren’t going to get all the way to Glasgow by Sunday night, however we made a final big push and late on we cycled across the border into Scotland at Gretna. We were mixed with emotions. The last leg of cycling had been hard work. We were fairly drained and in need of a few days off. We knew work the next day would not allow that to happen and it was to be 5 days really before we were able to look back and feel a real sense of achievement in what we had accomplished. We cycled 1,871km in total and by the time we go back down to finish the last leg into Glasgow itself (we’re planning next weekend), the entire journey will be over 2000km.

The Ae7 Milan to Glasgow idea was born over a bottle of wine (many of the greatest ideas are alcohol induced!) and like a fine wine the journey got better as we aged and made our way through Europe. Cycling gave us a totally different perspective on of the areas we passed as we biked through Italy, Switzerland, France, England and into Scotland. I did think Louise might never get on a bike again however it was only a few days after being back that she muted about the “next time” so watch this space …

Our Garden Accommodation at the Toll House B&B

Our Garden Accommodation at the Toll House B&B

Ae7 Road Trip France – Hemp, Champagne & Music!

Who said the French were small?

Who said the French were small?

Hemp, Champagne & Music!

We woke up and felt cold, the first time on the trip we’d felt this sensation! Worse still, we were actually happy! The irony wasn’t lost on us as we put on an extra layer and waterproof jackets. We even managed a slightly earlier start than usual, setting off in the rain with smiles on our faces. Riding in the cool air after 10 days or so of cycling in stifling temperatures was a real pleasure and we clocked up the kilometres fairly quickly as we headed in a general north westerly direction. A quick blast of Google Maps at night mixed with local tourist maps had proven to be a great way to travel across Europe without worrying too much about whether we were on the exact road we should be on to make maximum distance. We were restricted slightly in that we only had 3 weeks to get back to Glasgow but there was something refreshing in not worrying too much about where we were as long as we were heading the right way whilst enjoying our surroundings and the experience of the journey.

Louise riding the canals around Saint Dizier.

Louise riding the canals around Saint Dizier.

With this attitude firmly rooted we made our way onwards through France passing Saint Dizier then Reims. Even a casual remark from Louise about the canal was enough for us to check it out. We were able to really push on after we realised there was a good path following the canal in the direction we were heading. Perfect, no traffic, flat, cool weather … happy days! We stopped for lunch in a small out the way cafe. The old couple running it were really nice and brought out plate after plate of delicious food which we wasted no time in devouring, along with a couple of cold beers of course! There was even an old style penny sweet counter inside and Louise stood like a kid choosing her 20 cents worth of chews to keep her sugar intake up for the afternoon as we cranked out another 110kms before we stopped at the far side of Chalons sur Marne.

Cycling through Champagne region

Cycling through Champagne region

Leaving in the morning we decided to try a bit of cross country to avoid the busy main road. This didn’t quite go to plan thanks to rough tracks heading off in the opposite direction. We did pass some huge fields full of hemp growing quite the thing in the French countryside as far as the eye could see. I stopped and had a p**s on the field, it’s not everyday you get to do that on a whole field of the stuff and well I wasn’t going to smoke it. Shortly after we cycled into and through the Champagne region of France, the fields of the area filled with pristine looking grapevines and people busy tending them. Hemp, champagne, what next I wondered? The answer of course was music!

The hemp needed watering!

The hemp needed watering!

We cyclied into Reims and discovered that the city was holding a music festival. We found a hotel in the centre and spent the evening enjoying the musical street performances in this vibrant French city.

So many dead.

So many dead.

The thought of getting to Calais was never too far from our minds though and we got up early the next morning and headed out of Reims and into the countryside once again. The air was still cool and pleasing to cycle in and we were both lost in our own little life is good bubbles as we passed by the first of many graveyards found in this part of France to commerate the dead from the Great War. Two particular graveyards caught me off guard and made me feel almost guilty about being able to freely and happily cycle without a care past ground where so many people died. The first one was so big, each grave marked with a cross. The next had a sign for yet another British Military Grave. We stopped here and for a time we just sat silent, thinking about what happened here and how lucky we were to be doing what we were at that exact moment in time. So many young, so many dead.

Onwards we went though and on day 16 after 1259km’s we cycled into Calais itself. We both felt a real sense of achievement in that moment. We hadn’t planned any feelings like that and we still knew we had a long way to go when we hit the UK but it didn’t matter, for that moment we were on a high! We quickly sorted out a ticket for the short journey across the Channel after which we began our next stage of the journey but that is another Ae7 blog!

Arriving in Calais!

Arriving in Calais!

Ae7 Road Trip France – Part 1

Ae7 on tour in France

Ae7 on tour in France

Entering France

Entering France

We burst into France thinking here we go, Switzerland and the hills are behind us … wrong! The first thing we had to do was tackle a 1100m climb up to the village of Les Hopitaux Neufs via the picturesque Jougne. Now, first piece of advice on entering France, when you need lunch, make sure you get somewhere before 2pm. We entered the first place in the village of Jounge only to be told “Non” when we asked for food, the reason being that it was now 2 minutes past two!! The chef was not in the least bit interested that we had just cycled up the big climb to get there and several of the French customers protested on our behalf to no avail … “non!”. I did wonder if he was a distant French cousin of the chef from the Laroch Bar in Ballachulish? A few kilometres on we did find one place open and at last we sat down to some delicious French food, well, crepes to be exact!

We then commenced another downhill section and for the rest of the day we pedalled up and down relatively easy ground until we reached a tiny town called Nods and began the search for a hotel. The locals informed us we’d have to cycle another 8km to Vanclans where we’d find somewhere we could book in to. We set off, both of us feeling weary in the heat and it was with a mix of relief and delight when we spotted the hotel. As we approached though feelings of confusion kicked in, there were no cars parked in the car park, no people walking about, no lights or movement inside, the place was closed!!! By this time it was almost 8 at night, so we found a local restaurant and the staff there phoned around as they helped us to search for another hotel nearby. “I have found hotel for you” said the waiter smiling. “How far?”, we asked … “only 28 km’s” he replied … “f**k that” retorted Louise!!! We cycled on for a bit hoping the locals just didn’t realise they had other hotels in the town and when we stopped at another bar to ask there, a ten minute conversation ended up in one of the locals inviting us to stay at his house for the night, top lad! The dog was kicked out of the spare room for the night and we had somewhere to rest up.

Entering Becanson

Entering Becanson

Next day we said our thanks and goodbyes and headed off on route to the wonderful city of Gray! Now, I’m not sure if it was named after me or not but I made use of every photo opportunity none the less! On the way there we passed through Besancon. The road into the city from the hills above was steep and we crusied downhill banking into the corners that took the severity out of the route. We veered onto a slip road to the right just before the city and cycled into a small village where we found a great little restaurant which had just opened it doors for the day. In fact it seemed like the owner was cleaning up from the night before but he was more than happy to knock up a couple of omlettes with fresh chives cut from his garden in front of us. We were the only customers at that time of the morning and from our shaded position in the garden we could see the chef & his wive preparing croissants and bread for the day in the kitchen. The smells were awesome, as was the fresh ground coffee, for once not brewed too strongly and we had one of those moments where everything just seemed good in the world!

Shortly after that we entered Besancon and both of us were wowed by the beauty and the feel of this little known city with it’s riverside path leading to a old cobbled city centre. New tramlines were being built and along with the electric buses already running around the city, this mix of modern and old gave the city a cool vibe. The bikes bounced over the cobblestones and the sweat poured out of us, the temperature now in the mid 30’s. We kept clocking up the kilometres despite the toll the heat was taking on us. Every peddle seemed twice as hard as it should be and it was a relief to crank out the last few kilometres into Gray.

Riding through the French countryside

Riding through the French countryside

The next couple of days we followed roads through rolling countryside and flat valleys, passing fields full of haybales and wheat as we made firstly for ancient fortified hill top town of Langres, then the small town of Joinville in the Marne valley. As the temperatures continued to soar, the tarmac on the road started to blister and chunks stuck to our tyres. Later in the day holes appeared on the road where cars and trucks had churned up the tar. That afternoon we ditched the helmets, tying them to the gear racks. The roads were quiet, the heat too intense to wear them and we rolled into Joinville 782km’s after the start of our trip in Milan.

The forecast warned of thunderstorms and we could see the cloud building up in preparation. We couldn’t wait for that the skies to open up and this is one of only a handful of times in my life where I actually wanted it to rain!! Not something you hear a Scotsman say often! The stuffiness in the air needed a good downpour to clear it and with it a much wanted drop in temperature. That night we got our wish. The heavens opened as we devoured pizza and beer whilst watching the lightning show in the skies above. The next morning it was with wry smiles that we donned our Endura jackets and made for the next destination … that however is another Ae7 blog.

Ae7 on tour ...

Ae7 on tour …

Ae7 Cycling through Switzerland

Riding in Switzerland

Riding in Switzerland

Ok, so a quick summary of cycling through Switzerland goes something like this:

Up a hill, down a hill, along a valley, hang a right into another valley, hit the lake, follow it to the most northerly point, hang another right and cycle till you hit France, that’s basically it!

Ok, so the hill is actually the Alps, the valley is the spectacular Rhone, the Lake is Lac Leman or Lake Geneva as it’s more commonly known, the northerly point is the city of Lausanne and the route north west into France goes over the Jura mountain range.

We cycled into Switzerland from Italy over the Simplon Pass, cranking out 170kms over the Alps in 2 days and wrote about this in the last blog. After a huge downhill blast to Brig we carried on down the Rhone Valley to Martigny before heading right towards Lake Geneva. We stopped off in Lavey Village for the night to rest the weary legs and enjoy some Fondue. The next morning we passed the town of Aigle where we had been a few months earlier on route to Chatel for a snowboarding trip. Aigle is the nearest train station to the awesome resort which is part of the Port de Soleil mountain region. It was funny to see it in the summer and you really do get a different feel for places when you cycle through them.

Louise on the banks of Lake Geneva

Louise on the banks of Lake Geneva

The next day we cycled on some great roads, many with cycle lanes at the side and smashed the clicks (km’s) on route to the beautiful Lake Geneva. We decided to take the path that follows the Lake around, through Montreux which was buzzing with locals and tourists alike enjoying the vibrant surroundings of the city and views across the lake towards the Alps. There aren’t many more beautiful spots in the world, that’s for sure!

We stopped off in the town of Cully to have a wine on the shore of Lake Geneva (be rude not too!) and we enjoyed the moment before heading on Lausanne and uphill once again! The heat was verging on unbearable and we learned afterwards that the region was having one of hottest spells of weather in years, which of course we could vouch for! The Camelbaks were coming into their own and we drunk 8 liitres of water during the day before we came to a stop 110km’s later at the picturesque town of Orbe, not far from the French border. Rolling into the town I spotted two signs that screamed out to stop … pizza and Kronenbourg! We settled for pasta, a tasty Arribiata washed down with a couple of large ales. Funny how food always tastes better after a tough day.

Cycling through Cully, Switzerland

Cycling through Cully, Switzerland

Switzerland was fun to cycle through, there was never any moment when you couldn’t look up and be blown away by the scenery. The drivers, especially between Brig & Sierre, were the worst we’ve experienced on the entire trip so far. One truck pulled right out in front of me causing me to hammer on the brakes and swerve to miss him. As I passed by he signalled rather inpolitely with his middle finger. I responded with some choice words and left him in no uncertain terms that his driving was not of a good standard! Enough said. That whole section of road had many drivers cut in close to us when there was plenty room and it seems to just be the way there. We followed the Rhone and cycled off the main roads for a chunk of the journey. By the time we hit Lavey the roads and the driving had improved a lot!

The Alps were the main memory for us though, 40 km of non stop climbing is hard to forget! Switzerland hadn’t quite finished with us though and the route out from Orbe into France had a cheeky 1000 metre climb over the Jura mountains waiting for us! Over 300km’s later we hit the border and rode into France however that is another blog of the Ae7 Milan to Glasgow road trip.

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Ae7 Crossing the Alps

Climbing the Simplon Pass

Climbing the Simplon Pass

Monster climbs, Rapid Descents & the Sound of Music!

We’re now sitting in France having crossed the Alps and cycled through Switzerland. That part of the journey was pretty epic in terms of biking with some serious climbing. Cycling through Switzerland was a mixed bag of fish for want of a better phrase! It had some of the most amazing scenery you could wish for mixed with some great roads and well thought out cycle friendly lanes in towns & cities and main roads. It also had some of the worst drivers we’ve encountered so far, who had a blatant disregard for cyclists. Maybe we were spoilt in the north of Italy?

Louise at the top of the Simplon Pass

Louise at the top of the Simplon Pass

Anyway, we left the beautiful Omegna and made for the Alps. That part of journey I will leave for Louise to describe but before you read this, take note that this is someone who has never been on a road bike in her life until the day we landed in Italy. She has jumped on, carried her 3 weeks worth of equipment and racked up over 630km so far this trip. To say I am impressed by her commitment and drive, nevermind her fitness is an understatement. In saying that though she does have an iphone packed with motivational tunes, whereas I don’t and I spent at least 3 hours cycling with the sound of music song stuck in my head, as if a 2000 metre climb was not challenging enough!

Louise:

It’s hard to put into words how hard the ride was. Not only was it the steepest and highest ascent I have ever had to climb but the obscene heat, the thinning air and extra weight I had to carry made it one of the most physically demanding and mentally challenging things I have ever done.

The distance from Domodossola in Italy, where the climb begins, to Brig in Switzerland where the descent ends, is 65km long. There and parts of the route that are hideously steep, but in general the climbs are sweeping and manageable once you find your pace, but they are also relentless.

We took a break on the way up at a small cafe in Varso. It was very tempting to lengthen our rest period knowing the challenge that was ahead of us but we didn’t. We replenished on pizza and stocked up on chocolate and sweets before setting off again.

Louise meets some of the locals!

Louise passes some of the locals!

As we drudged our way towards the pass, we encountered the first of many tunnels. Initially we seen the tunnels as a welcome break where we were able to shelter out of the blistering sun. We soon realised however that these tunnels were not our friends but untrusting, dark and windy passages, busy with trucks, buses, cars and camping vehicles all apparently competing with each other to see who can get the closest to the cyclists carrying panniers! The noise of the trucks echoing through the tunnel as they hurtled towards us was unnerving. They actually made your body vibrate inside and the blast of hot air as the heavy trucks and buses passed caused the bike to wobble, not a pleasant experience.

The physical pain was another issue that we had to overcome but strangely it wasn’t the leg muscles that were the issue, it was the neck, shoulder, groin and back that smashed the pain threshold.

It was remarkable though how the mind overcomes the exhaustion. Every ache, strain and pain we were experiencing was just pushed aside because there was nothing else for it. The only way was up and it’s just not in either of our natures to quit.

Near the top of the Simplon Pass

Near the top of the Simplon Pass

As we neared the Simplon Pass the views became more breath taking with the snow capped mountains rolling out as far as the eye could see. The sky was clear, the air was clean and fresh and we stopped just short of the top to absorb every inch of the stunning scenery. We breathed deeply and with each inhalation the pain and exhaustion lessened. It was at that moment we realised every push of the pedal was worth it.

After we had our fill of the views and were satisfied we had at least one photograph that done them justice, the fun began and the decent commenced.

With 23km of steep downhill to enjoy there was no holding Rob back. He was off and I soon lost sight of him. I pushed myself on around the hairpin bends and through the tunnels and I must admit I found it difficult to remove the ridiculously huge grin from my face! Although it was wiped off when I crossed the bridge near the bottom and was hit was cross winds at the same time as a lorry passed me causing me to have a serious wobble and hit the brakes hard. It wasn’t long before I was at top gear again though, trying to get my top speed ever on a push bike and I succeeded!

Arriving in Brig

Arriving in Brig

As we reached Brig the memory of the monstrous exhausting assent had now morphed into a tremendous ride and we recognised it was an awesome achievement.

So there we have it, the real feelings of the climb & descent. It was an amazing experience and one that seems so long ago already! The best part was definitely the downhill, overtaking motorbikes, cars & a bus with a top speed of 78km/h which wasn’t bad with panniers and a headwind slowing us down. The journey through Switzerland and into France was one of mixed emotions however that is another blog!

Ae7 Milan to Glasgow Road Trip!

Rob taking in the views

Rob taking in the views

Ae7 Italian Job

Cycling in northern Italy

Cycling in northern Italy

We’re now over 250km’s into the trip and we’re sitting at almost 5000ft in the Swiss Alps after some serious climbing up the Italian side of the Alps today. Italy has been amazing, 3 epic days riding and a day of rest at the beautiful lakeside town of Omegna.

Cycling through Lessona

Cycling through Lessona

So after the last blog we left the historic town of Biella behind and headed east for a short distance before turning north and into the hills above the wine growing town of Lessona. The roads were fairly easy going initially and we clocked up the kilometres cruising through the wineyards and villages of the foothills to the Alps. What we have discovered is that each of the towns here seems to have their own made up shop opening times and I defy anyone to find a lunchtime pasta joint north of Milan! The people though are so friendly and despite our non existant Italian there is never any hassle getting what we need through sign language (except pasta that is!). Even confirmation of the next town is met with friendly shouts of “Avanti” which roughly translated means “crack on mate, your on the right road”!

We’ve got the packing squared now with bike kit in one Altura Dryline pannier, casual clothing etc in the other. After we reached Masserano the hills got steeper and the views got better. The weather was holding out as well despite the forecast, although we did have the Endura waterproofs placed on standby in the top of the packs.

Cycling in the foothills of the Alps

Cycling in the foothills of the Alps

We were in the zone, pedalling away and loving the sun that had decided to return to Italy after the previous days downpour. The road got steeper as we climbed up through a series of small hamlets and villages. A 2000ft climb is challenging under normal circumstances so it’s safe to say you need to work it a little more when you’re carrying 3 weeks worth of kit with you! The toe clip pedals that came with the Ridgeback Voyage bikes take a bit of getting used to and Louise has the bruises on her legs to prove what happens when you don’t get out quick enough. We probably should have stuck SPD’s on for this trip but we wanted to be as authentic as we could, using the kit as it comes off the shelf or out the box without upgrading. If it’s good enough to sell to a customer buying from Ae7 then it’s good enough for us to use! Or if we do recommend an upgrade it’s talking from experience of using the kit and not just upselling for the sake of making extra cash.

Bar Sport in Valduggia

Bar Sport in Valduggia

The great thing about climbing is you know you’re going to get to come downhill at some stage and the descent down into the small town of Pray didn’t disappoint! I did laugh at the name and said a quick prayer for the downhill to continue and the brakes to work at the bottom. They both did! Louise’s Camelbak Aurora ran out of water just before we got to a town called Valduggia. Now as chance would have it we passed a local establishment called Bar Sport and I presumed there would be water available inside. I also made good use of the stop to grab a cold local beer which turned into 2 as the barman kept putting plates of tapas onto the bar. I had a great sign language conversation with the friendly barman about the route and he waved us off along with another couple of customers shouting for us to have a good journey.

Another climb and another descent brought us our first glimpse of Lago d’Orta or Lake Orta and the view blew us away. We pedalled on to the top northern end of the Lake to the town of Omegna and came to a halt after another 80kms in the saddle. The sun was shining and it’s difficult to put into words the feeling and beauty of the place. We came to a stop outside a bar on the lakeside and we drunk a well deserved wine. We tried to order Pasta but yes you guessed it, they didn’t have any! The barman did however walk us 2 streets away to show us a restuarant that did serve pasta and wow, we were not disappointed.

Finding Pasta in Italy!

Finding Pasta in Italy!

Now, I know we were craving the food and I know we’d just cycled for 80kms in hot temperatures with some steep climbs but I can honestly say La Bottega del Centrale in Omegna served up the best pasta we have ever tasted. The owner was clearly passionate about her cooking and her food as well as the wine she sold! The pasta was freshly made on the premises and we devoured the plates put in front of us without talking other than to indicate how great it was!

So the wine & food was sorted, all we needed now was somewhere to stay and the hotel nearby provided another twist of good fortune. The only room left was a penthouse suite and because it was so late we were able to negociate a massive discount. In fact the whole place was so good we decided to take the next day as an early rest day to enjoy the surroundings. It turns out an early rest day was a good idea as we needed the surplus energy for the next days ride up into the Alps and across to Switzerland … but that is another blog!

Omegna, Italy

Omegna, Italy

Ae7 on tour – Arriving in Milan

Ae7 on tour!

Ae7 on tour!

So the day arrived when we found ourselves flying out of sunny Glasgow for the even sunnier climes on Milan. The Italian city was the start of the Ae7 Tour which will hopefully see us freewheel back into Glasgow in one piece in a few weeks time. The whole trip was a bit of a rush to get prepared for. Both of us were working flat out with the business, Gary the new Operations Manager was settling into his position and the new unit was being set up. The prep comprised of “Right, what are we going to need to do the trip? What do we have, what do we need to get?”. A few pages of A4 gave us a scribbled list to work off and that was that. The route we decided we’d work out as we went, partly to add to the old style adventure of doing a trip without a planned itinery, feeling and finding our way as we went and partly because we simply didn’t have the time to sit down and nail the detail. Phased? Definitely not. There’s something to be said for having a start and a finish, a time frame and you just make the rest happen.

The biggest part missing were the bikes, a small necessity for a road trip and after a bit of research and a few phone calls we set ourselves up as a dealer for Ridgeback bikes and bought ourselves two of the their World Voyage models. These are a classic style touring bike, fairly lightweight, good spec for the money and they come with all the bits and pieces you need to just hit the road running or touring so to speak. We built them up, checked them over and packed them away again, their first trial of any kind was to be on Italian soil. I have to say after 2 days of riding in the mountains of Northern Italy the Voyage bikes have well exceeded our expectations.

Packed & ready to go!

Packed & ready to go!

So on Saturday the 8th June we flew to Milan Malpensa airport. It was a late arrival and we simply arrived, took a shuttle to the hotel we booked whilst in transit in London and basically got the head down for a good nights rest. We had already decided that the first day was simply going to be a get up, set the bikes up and ride for a few hours. If we made any real distance then that would be a bonus. A hearty breakfast started the new day and after building the bikes we consulted Google Earth and set off with a rough route plan. Several stops were required to tweak the gears and brakes and saddles but initial impressions brought big smiles as we cruised along effortlessly on the flat roads near the airport. The Altura Dryline 56 litre panniers we bought fitted on the frames perfectly. These clip on and off so easily, there’s no movement once they’re on and we had plenty room inside to get all our 3 weeks worth of kit in. Initial impressions after two days including some serious rain to test the material is that these bags rock!

P1120021So onto the riding! Day one seen us leave Milan Malpensa airport and over the course of the afternoon and early evening we cranked out 80kms on the way to the town of Biella, a beautiful old place in the foothills of the Alps. Now it would be fair to say that we pretty much gave the bikes and equipment a thorough testing on day one. Whilst everyone in Scotland was basking in glorious sunshine we we forced to try out the new waterproofs we bought from Endura as thunderstorms opened the skies in Italy and the rain battered us for a few hours. Ironic really and I did think about not telling anyone back home about this but it’s only fair the waterproofs get a mention as they did a great job! I texted my 12 year old daughter, telling her about the rain and she replied with a 4 line text that went something along the lines of hahahahaha, which sums up the response I thought we’d get when we mentioned it was chucking it down in Italy!

Italian Weather

Italian Weather

There were a few cheeky climbs on the chosen route and the legs had a good workout for sure. Most of the route was on smaller country roads with little traffic which made for a really pleasant ride through some quaint little villages and towns. It was all going really well and then the rain started … and the wind blew! I did think to myself, day one, for f***s sake! The realisation that the kit was working though and the amazing views despite the weather made the day bearable. Eight hours later we rode into Biella and found a great little eclectic B&B called Sottocoperta. The owner was a really nice bloke and despite the drenched individuals standing at his door asking for a room and about to soak his floor, we were welcomed inside. Pizza, beer, bed was the order of events for the evening!

Biella Bike

Biella Bike!

Next morning we woke up to sunshine. Now that’s the Italy we signed up for! A quick reassesment of the route (the beauty of having no fixed plan!) and after checking out the owners collection of hand built recycled cycles we fixed our panniers and set off on another voyage this time heading north towards the lakeside town of Omegna. Details of that part of the Ae7 road tour will follow in the next blog …