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Lilac to Ventoux

Glorious 25th of May Ventoux Report

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Glorious 25th of May Ventoux Report

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(NB: This was written on 26 May, but posted on 29 May)

It’s done. After almost a year of planning, training, fundraising and agonising over all of the above, the Glorious 25th of May has been, and Vimes and I have made it up Mont Ventoux.

I still can’t quite believe I did it. As with childbirth, I’ve quickly forgotten the pain, the effort, the concentration and the heavy breathing required to climb a mountain on a bike. All that’s left is the occasional involuntary screech uttered as I attempt to descend stairs, and a bunch of memories that seem to belong to someone else. I don’t know why this is – maybe it’s because, as I look out the window at the shadow of Ventoux in the darkening evening sky, it seems impossible that I – 41 years old, and of a distinctly Nanny Oggish build – could have managed it. I know I did though, because thanks to my wonderful support crew, Arnout and Emrys, there’s photographic evidence.

Ventoux at dawn


I left at about 5:45am, pretty much as soon as it was light enough to cycle safely without lights (which I had left at home, argh). It was so quiet out – no traffic on the roads, only the sound of the birds waking up, and down in the village, the little supermarket with its doors already open to receive the morning deliveries.

I saw only one other cyclist, who turned onto the road some distance ahead of me. Riding on a low gear, I kept pace with him/her (too far ahead to see which), until I had to stop at Ste Colombe to remove my jacket and roll my arm warmers down a bit. Even that early in the morning, riding was warm work – perhaps not surprising since it’s a climb (even though gradual) straight out of Bédoin. There was a cat watching me from the windowsill of a house, framed by the light blue shutters as if in a postcard. Sometimes I wish I had Spider Jerusalem’s camera glasses so I could capture those moments when they happen.

My next stop was just short of 7km, at the place where the road turns a corner and the steeper incline begins. I wasn’t sure at this point how often I would need to stop, but I wasn’t in any hurry, and my main goal was to keep going till the summit. I was already on my lowest gear, which gave me a speed of about 7km/h or so. As it turned out, I needed to stop about once every kilometer to take a breather and have a drink.

A decent part of the ride is through forest. If I could remember where I’d left my book on Mont Ventoux, I’d be able to tell you exactly how far. I’m guessing about 10km or so? The forest was lovely. The sun wasn’t up yet, so it was cool and quiet, and there still was no one else on the road. I was surprised at how lush the forest was – from photos I’d seen, I’d expected a much drier, dusty-green forest, a bit like in Australia, but it was almost the same spring green as a Belgian forest.

I hadn’t yet seen a single other person apart from that one other cyclist, which I found absolutely amazing because it was clear to me that this was the best possible part of the day for a ride. It was so quiet I could hear the bees as well as the birds. Lovely.

Somewhere during this part of the ride, Arnout and Emrys turned up, surprised to see I’d got as far as I had (which was most gratifying to hear!).

Riding through the forest


My cheer squad and supply dude, waiting for me to appear. When he saw me coming, he shouted ‘Hup, Mama, hup!’ which made me grin, and also charged up my batteries a bit. So cute :D


Me explaining to Emrys about the significance of Wearing the Lilac.


Aside from being Event Photographer, Arnout was also acting as Cyclist Re-launcher, giving me a bit of a shove when it was time to get back on the bike. This is not cheating unless the pushing lasts for further than 15m (like in Aussie Rules Football :P ).

That said, I do find my relentless grinning rather suspicious. Do they put something in that sport drink?


The sun was up now, and I was riding through patches of it but it wasn’t hot enough to bother me yet (and in fact, it never really got that bad, another huge advantage of leaving so early).


I rolled in to Chalet Reynard (6km below the summit) about three hours after setting out from Bédoin. Okay, so I wasn’t setting a cracking pace or anything, but I was getting there.


I stopped there to have an apple juice with my support crew, and to send a message to let Arnout’s parents know where I was. Chalet Reynard is the first place where you really see the ‘moonscape’ for which Ventoux is famous, and I was starting to get very nervous indeed. The transition from forest to open scree is quite abrupt – one moment you’re surrounded by trees, and the next there are only low-growing shrubs and a sort of ground cover plant that gives the slopes the appearance of being afflicted with green chicken pox. Further up, all the vegetation disappears (except for the occasional determined dandelion), and there’s nothing but limestone-coloured rock shards. It’s a desolate and striking place, with absolutely no shelter from the weather. As pointed out by Arnout’s Mum a couple of days before the ride, the increasingly barren and lonely terrain of Mont Ventoux provides an appropriate metaphor for the way Alzheimer’s disease isolates its sufferers, stripping away the things that give them their identities and place in the world – the memories which connect them to people and places. It was a sobering thought.

The weather station at the summit, as seen from the first corner up from Chalet Reynard.


The first part of the moonscape stretch was surprisingly easy compared to what I’d been doing in the forest. Arni had told me this before but I’d forgotten about it, and also about the bit about it getting MUCH harder right before the summit. :P

I’m that little speck down by the corner. This gives an idea of how high up we are.


There’s that smile again. I’m obviously enjoying this far too much, what’s wrong with me??!


And then things began to get a mite more difficult ...


...and all of a sudden, it wasn’t so much a grin as a grimace. At this point, I was starting to doubt my capacity to reach the top.


Luckily, by this time it’s impossible not to know how far you have to go, since the landscape obligingly shows you in agonising detail where the road ahead leads, and just how steep the climb is (it doesn’t look so bad in this photo, but you better believe I was asking for Divine assistance by the time I reached that stretch in the background.).


The weather station was continually mocking me by appearing to be very close and then turning out not to be after all.


Reaching the summit and acknowledging Grandpa and Sultan.


This sign, and the way my hair is plastered to my head with sweat, pretty much sums it all up, really.


Vimes and I, proud and exhausted. Well, I was proud and exhausted. Vimes wasn’t saying much.


Me with my darling Support Crew. Thanks guys xxx


To paraphrase Sir Pterry himself: "No one wants to ride Ventoux. Everyone wants to have ridden Ventoux." (Actually, I did want to ride, but I can never pass up the opportunity for a really bad pune, or play on words. Sorry.)


Uh-huh. Oh yeah. :D


Naturally, what goes up, must also come down. The plan was that I would ride down the other side of the mountain towards Malaucène (hope I spelt that right), and then back to Bédoin. Unfortunately, there were two problems. One was that I am a massive chicken when it comes to descents. The other was that my hands were still weak from the nerve damage and were tiring easily, not ideal when you’re hysterically braking all the time to try and avoid plunging off a precipice going any faster than 30km/h. Yes I know some of my readers are pro cyclists (or close to). Stop laughing.

The result was that I had to stop and get Arnout to ride my bike down to the restaurant where we were going to stop for a celebratory bite to eat. I drove behind in the car, and he got there way before me (I drive like I cycle, shut up).

Having eaten our celebratory bite (which would have done CMOT Dibbler proud (sausage-inna-tin and burger-fromma-freezer), and which was served by the French Basil and Sybil Fawlty), I started off again, thinking I could make it to the bottom of the mountain. The first part of the ride was okay because the road was winding and therefore made it easy to slow down a bit, but then I hit this long, straight, steep descent. About half way down, there was an explosion and something hit my leg. My rear tyre had blown out. I got off the bike, and when I went to inspect the tyre, I burnt myself on the wheel rim. My hysterical braking had heated the rim up so much that it not only popped my inner tube, but destroyed a section of the tyre itself.

That was the end of my descent. Although Arnout had brought along a spare tyre and I had a new inner tube, I didn’t think there was much point in changing them, only to do the same thing further down the road. (I should mention at this point that while Arnout and I were discussing this on the side of the road, a far braver (and undoubtedly much more experienced) cyclist whizzed past at an estimated 70kph. Argh.)

We dismantled my bike and stuck it in the car, and drove the rest of the way back to Bédoin. Embarrassment and silliness aside, this is something I’m really going to have to work on if I want to keep cycling up mountains. I can’t be like a cat stuck on top of the wardrobe, looking for a lift down again all the time. I’ve got to get my act together.

That’s about it for the report, I think. I can’t quite believe it’s over yet. I’ve been looking forward to it for so long, and with a sort of *schwiff!* noise, it's whizzed past, just like that cyclist on the descent. I’m going to miss having Lilac to Ventoux occupying such a large part of my life.

However, this is not the end. Next year, I’m not sure what I’m going to do because dear friends of ours have planned their wedding for the 26th of May, which means no driving to huge mountains far away. Maybe I will do some kind of endurance ride nearby instead. 2013 is a different matter though – I’ve got a really cool idea for that, which I will infuriatingly keep under my hat until I’m sure it’s doable. Both of these events, whatever form they take, will be raising funds for Alzheimer’s research as part of the wider Discworld fandom 25 May efforts.

I still need to write my proper thank you post, but I will leave that till I get home again and have an internet connection that doesn’t involve walking down the hill in the dark and tripping over things.

In the meantime, thank you all so much for your support, encouragement and advice. It means a lot to me that you’ve all been willing to come along on this ride.




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