A Travellerspoint blog

Post Script - Sponsorship Form

overcast 9 °C

Here is the sponsorship form for myself, which I decided to put on here as I'd assumed it would be slightly tidier than on Facebook. There doesn't appear to be a table-making function however so it's just going to work as a second reference.

SF.jpg

Congratulations everyone :)

Posted by Tom.Calver 02:23 Archived in England Tagged volunteer Comments (0)

Fin, Fini, Ende, End

sunny 35 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

No stats or even photographs from our last day unfortunately; the GPS didn't have enough charge and the camera batteries mysteriously died. A shame for sure, but hopefully my excellent literary skills will take you places neither of those media forms ever could...

At roughly seven-thirty this evening on 1 August 2009, Jon and I looked around and wondered why the smooth, ordered surfaces of the town square had suddenly given way to potholed roads and chaotic pedestrians, striving to dodge beeping traffic on their way to kebab stores. The answer, we quickly realised, was that we had accidentally fallen into Como, Italy.

The trip is over, and perhaps just in the nick of time. For the last fifteen miles I had a pain in my knees akin to someone putting a screwdriver under my patella and giving it a bit of gain every now and then, with the occasional streak of numbness down my left leg. It was very similar to the symptoms John described after Belgium, so I suppose it's down to repetitive strain and the impact of the mountain yesterday - everyone has their limit, and I guess this is mine. So we'll stay in this hotel for a couple of days while we arrange for the bikes to be shipped back to England and figure out whether we'll take the train or plane back, and in the mean time spend a while in Lake Como evening out our ridiculous bike tans (i.e. having our finger tips and a patch on the back of our hands tanned while everything else remains as pale as when we left because of the cycling gloves), do some swimming, go on a boat trip, maybe even throw the bikes in the lake. Who knows; we're tourists now, and we have all the attached freedoms. When I get batteries for the camera I'll get a photo of my Cambodian Kromar (a traditional type of scarf) wrapped around the "Welcome to Italy" sign with the two of us, then it's off home: for me to organise all kinds of things from loans to work, and for John to start running his business again. Tough times.

As for the day, we made 90miles and except for my knees near the end we really did it very well. I think we're getting better at this cycling business. Admittedly after San Gottardo a lot of the journey was down hill, but there were plenty of straights with a strong wind in our face and one memorable moment where we had to push our bikes up a medieval road-come-riverbed for a mile to get to the top of Monte Ceneri 550m high, as we'd missed our turn-off and it was the only road available without backtracking for over 6miles. A woman gave me a knowing smile as I began cycling near the tarmaced base of the hill and it didn't take me long to realise why. I'm covered in fresh mosquito bites. At one stage we had to dip our heads in a nearby pool of mountain water, which was cool only for a moment before immediately forming a hot vapour around us which refused to clear. I may go so far as to say that was the worst moment of our trip; good to know we haven't lost our knack for incompetency at just the right time. Generally however the descent from the mountains was glorious. The cool alpine air gave way to meditteranean heat quickly as we dropped altitude and followed the clear, fresh streams from the mountains down again as they began to slow and enter the lakes of Northern Italy. Lakes which were unmistakeably Italian in the architecture and attitudes of the people who populated them; German tourists and locals who effused money from their speedboats, good physiques and choice of watersports. Highlights certainly included passing through a beautiful village on our descent through a glacial valley, where the Swiss route took us through small tunnels and past tiny vineyards so perfectly rustic it was as if they'd been made solely for our pleasure. Then there was Lake Lugano, surrounded by mountains, stiflingly hot and dotted with Italian buildings on the land and jet skis on the water. Plenty to commend it. I suppose I haven't done as well a job of painting a visual picture as I'd claimed I would, but I suppose this portion of the trip will just have to be secret to us - feel free to cycle it yourself some day.

I think that's all that needs to be said. I may add post-scripts about our overall statistics, maps, any more correspondance form Togh Main (the Cambodian headmaster), but really that's all there is to tell. If you've read this far you must be interested in what we've done, so I'm sure it would be worth adding on those extra pieces of information. It's nice to know someone's read this as well, as if they recognise the hard work that has been involved in all aspects of this journey.

Heartfelt thanks to all readers and donors,

Arrivederci,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 13:18 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

A Tale of Two Journeys - Kid Calver: Climbing to Chiasso

all seasons in one day
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

John decided this morning he wouldn't be able to make the Saint Gotthard Pass, so I opted to go on alone while he caught the train to the eventual endpoint at Airolo. I don't mind he couldn't make the journey, but felt one of us should complete this section on our bikes. As it is potentially placed on the penultimate day as well I saw it as a fitting finale to our trip; it marks the border between German and Italian Switzerland, it would be my toughest challenge by far and from then on it was mostly downhill to Northern Italy. It had to be done.

The day's Map and Stats for my gruelling climb

Kid Calver: Climbing to Chiasso

People are so quick to forget misery. I mean physical misery. If whatever it is that causes the pain goes away and no longer poses an immediate problem it's gone from the mind in moments. I'm not sure why, but I've found it's often true.

There was a time today when I sat in a poorly maintained café that I felt my spirits drop completely. I looked out at the distant, narrow crack in the mountain ahead, where points of sunlight marked where the traffic passed through, and came the closest I ever have on this trip to saying "I can't do it," even though really I had no alternative but to try. The ground all around was cold, bare grass covered in mountain scree, and I could see from the Swiss flag fluttering in front of me the wind was blowing fiercely from the direction I intended to travel. Not only that, but it kept going up. I had done over five and a half thousand feet already, and knew the end had to be near, but I just couldn't bring myself to continue. I called John to stall time (who picked up the despair in my voice), I ate whatever the lady at the bar gave me and paid what she wanted. I was spent, yet now I can't remember how that feels, and find it hard to describe. I can describe what my mind chose to focus on at the time; the Swiss flag, the waitress, the ascending road ahead, but to remember that state is impossible.

Still, I made it. And it was one hell of journey, something that may be impossible to explain completely, but I can try by using the same waypoints as above. It's the best I can do.

I left the highly characterful "Stern und Post" hotel from the night before and set off by myself immediately. I knew where the track was from yesterday and was straight into the ascent. I passed the two nerdy men from the previous night, who I noticed were trying the pass with all the equipment (John had taken mine with him on the train to give me a better shot at it), and felt a little sorry for them. They clearly hadn't been doing this for very long, and if they made it at all with all their equipment they were in for an awful day. I had some cat-and-mouse with some of the professional cyclists I met en route for the first thousand or so feet of ascent. The terrain was perfect for any cyclist looking to improve their fitness so it was hardly surprising most I ran in to were lycra clad, toned & tanned leg types with road gears and stern resolve. Eventually however my pace started to lag, and the rise became less fun as the road became busier and I found myself passing through tunnels which meant I had to focus not only on making it up the hill, but also keeping tightly to the curb, making sure I was visible and not stopping. It was an exhausting amount to take on board. Shortly after I was in the low cloud of the valley, meaning poor visibility was added to my worries, before I broke free of forest all together and rose above the cloud into the rugged grassland on the plateau of Andermatt.

I stopped for a mineral water and a handful of nuts before again continuing to the top. Several other tourers had taken the train here to try their luck on the pass and if there were some way I could have grafted their legs onto mine I'd have been there, using my teeth if necessary to amputate them; I couldn't seem to get rested. Before long I was counting my ascent by the hundred feet, by the tens of feet and finally from stop-to-stop. At one moment I rested on an electric fence and didn't even realise, until I identified a spasm in my waist and then noticed I was in a lot of pain. Whenever I rested it only took a few pedal revolutions to make them ache again. It was roughly here I found the aforementioned café.

I'd followed the rivers from rapids to waterfalls to tiny rivulets and streams which cascaded from all around. John told me there was rain in Airolo, and at around the same moment I could see a fog the colour of a rain cloud drift between the cracks in the mountain ahead. I was in his rain cloud.

The ascent to this split in the rocks was very slow, and on the other side I found a sign to Gotthardpass along a cobbled road which I took in lieu of the newer road as it continued on the same gradient as before and went through another tunnel. Even if I had to go up more eventually I couldn't handle any more at that incline, I needed something flat if only for a while. The rain cloud was so thick around me I could barely see the edges of the road, and parts of lake or meadow would drift from the sides eerily. Everything was quiet except the occasional car which had found its way onto the track. Most importantly, and to my complete disbelief, the road kept going up. By my calculations it was 3feet to a metre, so roughly 2100m was 6300feet. By the time I'd finished I was well over 7000. I only guessed I was near the top when I heard laughter and found an Italian couple having their photo taken by a simple post with "St.Gotthardpass, 2108m" tacked on it. After making this trip everyone was best friends; we took photos for each other and then continued on separate ways while the town ahead drifted into view a metre at a time. Bratwurst vans, fluffy cow souvenirs, other cyclists in complete elation.

I noticed when I stopped pedalling it was really very cold up here, and that I had moisture all over me. I dressed for the descent which consisted of hairpin turn after turn over rough cobbled ground and numbed my hands instantly. The shifting vapour around me made the cliffs look as if they were moving; very odd. The moment I passed under the cloud was almost immediate, like I could reach up and touch it like a ceiling, then I continued on my way down, stopping occassionally to take photos of the awe-inspiring views of the valley below. It was such a hard day, I'm not even sure if I'd say it was worth it, but now I'm glad it happened.

Posted by Tom.Calver 11:16 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

Skyscrapers

overcast 20 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Here are the days Stats and Map

If Zeus took holidays, it'd be in the Alps: The pelvis of Europe. Mountains pierce the clouds in a way which conveniently allows me to continue my phallic metaphor and all around us the fun is on non-stop rotation. Even now there are fireworks outside; fuck knows why, but they keep going all the same.

The day's been great, truly, and really it makes me want to continue after Chiasso. There have been points where you could have stopped me this afternoon and I would have felt differently but now I can safely say the day has been enjoyable and productive. We're in an incredible land formation formed by a river or glacier which flows into the Urner See stretch of water, surrounded on both side by sheer mountains that rise into the clouds then catch them briefly as they flow over their tips. These have tightened slowly as we've cycled closer to the river's source and now they press closely on both sides with perhaps as little as a few miles between them. We also have mountains straight ahead. It's been just as interesting for us, who have navigated by water for so long, to see the changes to rapids composed of white water and topaz from the sluggish blues and greens of the low country's canals. Yes, today has been good. It's been a story of skirting the Lake of Lucerne to the ferry, crossing by boat then following the lake back to one of its sources, all the way to this mountain: St. Gotthard Pass. On the other side of this is a long descent to Italy, and the end of our trip. After today however we've never felt fitter or more capable; confidence is at a high, though we've yet to see if it is as high as the mountain. I'll upload pictures when I can because I hope that will explain the day better than paragraphs of gushing description.

Also, John is going to make an effort at St. Gotthard Pass tomorrow, but whether he does it all or not you can be certain I shall. Two thousand and one hundred metres is a fitting finale for the trip; one I wouldn't want to miss.

Until then,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 12:09 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

In the background

sunny 34 °C
View Calais to Chiasso on Tom.Calver's travel map.

Map and Stats

As we make our way closer to the 2100m mountain of St.Gotthardpass, I notice the days go faster. For now it's all that's truly on my mind, and all I really want is to be there now, like Marlow in Conrad's Heart of Darkness I work with only one objective in mind. I spoke to John tonight and it's been decided he can't make the journey, so I will do it myself and meet him on the other side. It's a pretty big deal; the highest I'll have done by long way, a certifiable mountain, although really it's presumptuous to say anything now...I'm not even sure if it's allowed to cycle its entire height, I certainly haven't seen anything on it online.

But, that's just me, I need to talk about the day. German language isn't one suited to compassion, and the day opened with a sharp "What do you want?" from a confused concierge of very limited English, standing in for the guy from the night before, when I searched around the breakfast room for something more substantial than croissants and ham. I promptly returned to my seat, wetted my gloves (a tip from John; cool hands cool down the rest of your body, and the gloves retain moisture to be wiped on your face during the journey, lovely on days as hot as they've lately been) and began. We had a little confusion leaving Basel but there's no doubt we have discovered the best technique on leaving anywhere sizeable is to pick a compass direction and head that way, then worry about where you should be when you're out of city limits. We found our Swiss route and, for a time, it was excellent, but briefly lost it when just one sign was missing - I had the rough route on my GPS so we made our own way for several miles before rediscovering and staying on it for the entire day. Aside from getting stung by a wasp we had no problem and trailed through interesting countryside and pleasant towns, down backstreets and alleys with complete confidence. Not having to worry about navigation has been a real pleasure, even if the cycling has been more difficult than Alsace, as we can allow our minds to relax and enjoy what some committee has prepared for us.

The route today did include a hill of 810m, the highest we've yet encountered (the record was 620m in Belgium), and it was horrendous. We stopped halfway at a café where with incredible intuition the waitress served us a meal perfect for our journey - a selection of pasta, beans, diced sausages, saurkraut and crudités with a side order of chips and half-litre tumblers of Coke. We knocked these back and had never felt so energised, yet the remainder of the hill had the steepest gradients yet and was far from easy.

At the top we caught our first view of the Alps - the real Alps,and they left me cold. I'd never seen anything so high. At first we thought we could see clouds in the distance but as our eyes adjusted, we saw them to be snow capped peaks. We have to go through that...I have to go over it. We are now in Sursee and intend to make the base of the mountains tomorrow, after a small ferry journey in the middle of the day. We'll see how it goes.

Until then,
Auf Wierdersehen,
Tom x

Posted by Tom.Calver 13:43 Archived in Switzerland Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

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