Tuesday 1 December 2020


 Hello Readers!

Like many people my activities have been constrained by the Coronavirus pandemic. Consequently, although I have been riding quite a lot I haven't been anywhere special or had many exciting adventures. Well, exciting enough to share with you. So I have decided to have a break from blogging for a while and I hope to return, refreshed and reinvigorated next year.


The Captain

Friday 28 August 2020


Well hello readers. Yet again I seem to have let you down by not keeping you up to speed with my activities. I have probably been having too much fun in the saddle and as I have said before, faced with a choice between the keyboard and the saddle, the saddle always wins. So there! But as it’s a wet afternoon and after being chastised by a few of you I’m going to try and make amends. So, let’s roll the clock back to the start of the year and chase down the peloton. As they are now several miles up the road I am going to have to up my cadence and work hard to catch up.

Garden of the Gods - Cycling Heaven?
I returned to the USA at the end of January, flying to Denver to meet Mary and stay, sans bike, with her sister and brother-in-law for a few days in Colorado Springs on the eastern side of the Rockies. We visited the Garden of the Gods with its spectacular rock formations. This was a beautiful place with some great ride possibilities. So great that I was sorely tempted to snag a bike by any means possible and set off to explore further. But I restrained myself and hopefully I will be invited back and have an opportunity to stretch my climbing legs.

After a week at altitude (around 8,000 ft) we were soon heading back to Sacramento which now feels like I’m returning home. I was pleased to be reunited with Fausto, my Bianchi Infinito, and we were soon heading out on the American River Bike trail to get back in the groove. Our 40‑mile first ride was just the ticket to re-acquaint ourselves with each other. It was a bit like meeting an old friend and our conversation picked up exactly where it had ended a few weeks before. The bike trail is a wonderful resource and I was determined to enjoy it to the full. Having spent several weeks riding on UK roads it was a pleasant change to ride without having to worry about cars! As I write this blog post at the beginning of September, it seems strange to think back to a time when the media were just beginning to report a virus outbreak in China. Like most people I had no inkling of what was about to happen and how much our lives and lifestyles were going to change.

One happy author!
I managed to clock up close to 1,000 miles in February including finding a few new routes to take me further afield. My latest book, Can I Tell You Something? was published at the end of the month. It’s the story of my 2018 tour across the USA. Opening one of the boxes that the publisher had sent to me in Sacramento and holding the finished book for the first time was a really exciting moment. There had been a few production issues with the cover when it was being printed so I was pleased to see that it had turned out well in the end. I was especially pleased with the blurb on the back cover:

“Mark Pritchard has an engaging writing style. Can I Tell You Something? puts you on the saddle of his bike so that you can almost hear the swish of tyres on the tarmac and feel the breeze on your face. It’s the next best thing to being on the tour yourself.”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll understand what this all about!

Early in March I completed my first century ride of the year. I had bought a book about rides in northern California and there were a couple in the Sacramento Delta area south of the city so I decided to explore the area which I hadn’t been to before. I managed to navigate myself across the city to the Freeport Bridge which is a gateway to the delta. This was quite a hair-raising experience on busy roads through the suburbs where I definitely didn’t feel safe, both from the traffic and in some quite run down and economically depressed housing areas. I have since worked out how to get to the bridge by bike trail which has made me feel a lot happier.

The Delta covers about 1,100 square miles and was formed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. Subsidence due in part to wind erosion means that much of the area lies below sea level hence the nickname “California Holland”. There are a lot of similarities with the Fens which I often ride in back in the UK. One difference that I immediately noticed is that in the Fens most of the minor roads run below the levees and flood banks whereas in the Delta they sit on top of the levees. In the UK I am often grateful for the shelter from the cold Siberian winter winds. In the Delta I enjoyed the opportunity to see the views and appreciate the scale of the landscape. The Delta and the Fens are both important for the crops grown but the Delta, at least in the area I rode, stands apart for the sheer scale of its vineyards. Signs for the various wineries and a wine trail piqued my interest for the future. The area’s microclimate means that some very high-quality grape varieties are grown. The town of Clarksburg, which was the hub of my ride, boasts an appellation which is highly valued across the world.

The route I took followed some very minor, and in some places quite rough roads. The bumps are caused by roots as many of the levees are tree lined. Over the three hours I spent riding in the Delta I was passed by only two cars, so I was able to meander my way around the bumps with ease. I imagined that I was like the captain of a ship navigating through a minefield. One loss of concentration could be terminal. You will deduce that I survived intact to tell the tale!

Many of the vineyards had people, including possibly whole families working in them and often they stood up and gave me a friendly wave which I returned as I passed by. If I was able to speak Spanish I would have been tempted to stop to learn a bit more about what they were doing. The long-distance views, with the Sierras just visible in the distant haze to the east were breath-taking. And the tranquillity and peace, with just the whirr of my wheels spinning, the occasional bird call and the gentle rustle of the breeze in the tree leaves, was so relaxing. And all this just 20 miles, as the crow flies, from the hustle and bustle of downtown Sacramento. I look forward to returning exploring more of the area.

Having reacquired the enjoyment of century riding I completed my second 100-mile ride of the year a week later. This time I rode west out of Sacramento to the city of Davis and then northwards through Woodland and Knights Landing to the Sacramento River which I followed until I estimated that I was just over 50 miles from home where I turned around and followed the river back to the city.

Whilst waiting at some traffic lights when I was leaving Sacramento another rider pulled up alongside me and we got chatting. Rick, who was from Southern California, was staying in the city while his wife was at a conference. We rode together to Davis and Woodland where he turned right to head back towards the city and I continued northwards. Like cyclists everywhere we weren’t short of conversation! Except for the leg northwards out of Davis which involved riding into a very stiff headwind making conversation virtually impossible. We shared the lead position to provide each other with shelter. As I paused to bid Rick farewell he told me to remember that “the wind is my friend.” Sage advice indeed!

Fausto amongst the walnuts
Once I reached the Sacramento River the landscape was very similar the Delta area that I rode in last week. The main difference was that instead of vineyards the landscape was dotted with walnut plantations. California produces 99 per cent of the total USA walnut crop, spread over some 200,000 acres, and the Sacramento valley is one of the main growing areas. About one third of the crop is exported and California-grown walnuts account for three-quarters of world trade. Maybe the next time I have a café stop for coffee I’ll be savouring some Californian walnuts in my slice of coffee and walnut cake. Now there’s a thought!

During April I continued to explore new routes with one highlight being a ride into the El Dorado Hills. Despite the name, the site of the gold strike in 1848 was actually several miles away in Coloma. Many readers will know that I enjoy the challenge of a hill climb. Lying in a river valley on a delta, and not yet having extensive local knowledge, means that for me at least, finding a good hill is a bit like finding hens teeth. Mary had talked about Beatty Drive in the El Dorado Hills which piqued my interest, so I set out towards Folsom to find out more. And I was not disappointed.

Heading to the El Dorado Hills
The main part of the climb is about three-quarters of a mile long with an average gradient of 10% and maximum of 15%. Strava rates it as a Cat 4 climb. It was certainly stiff enough to get me breathing heavily and raised my heart rate to 170 bpm – I normally average around 120 bpm on my rides. The road swept upwards through some up up-market real estate with great views over Folsom Lake and back towards the city. Reaching what I took to be the top of the climb I paused to catch my breath before turning around and enjoying the descent on a smooth surface, sweeping through the curves in less than a quarter of the time that the ascent had taken. Looking at the map afterwards I realised that I could have gone further along the ridge and come back by a different route. Oh well, next time! And no, I didn’t find any gold.

As mid-April approached it was time to return to the UK. By now the Coronavirus pandemic was in full flow with lockdowns in most countries across the globe. In California at least, I was still able to ride which provided some welcome relief. The rest of the time, apart from occasional trips to get groceries etc. Mary and I stayed at home with an upside that we were able to catch up on essential garden work! From early March as the virus took hold and people were furloughed, I noticed a significant increase in the number of riders on the trail. These included whole family groups which were great to see. There were also a lot of riders on new and up-market bikes wearing some pretty stylish kit who rode like they were sprinting to win a stage if the Tour of California. If only they had a better understanding of riding etiquette, or even a grasp of the concept of awareness and safety when other riders were using the trail. I had a number of close shaves, including one where I still don’t understand how I managed to stay upright!

With direct flights back to the UK being severely curtailed I was lucky to be able to get a flight from LA to Heathrow. I was one of only 10 passengers on the flight and had a whole cabin to myself. There were more crew than passengers! Heathrow, when we arrived, was virtually deserted. It took me a mere 30 minutes to disembark and shuttle across to the rental car office, collect a car and drive on to the M25. If this had been a Strava segment I would surely have won a KOM! The drive back to Suffolk was quite eerie on virtually deserted motorways. The day after arriving I loaded CV into the back of the rental car, which I took back to the depot in Thetford. After completing the end of hire formalities CV and I enjoyed a gentle 40-mile ride around once familiar lanes as we headed back home.

UK Government advice allowed exercise and as I live in the countryside I took this to mean that I could ride fairly freely as long as I didn’t stray too far from home. One of my ‘standard’ routes is about 50 miles long but never more than 10 miles from my house. One thing that struck me immediately was that there were a lot more people out riding. The media was reporting a massive surge in bicycle sales – so much so that in some places dealers were pretty much out of stock and quoting lead times of several months before they would be able to fill orders. Smart trainers were also out of stock and I was amused to learn that virtual racing on Zwift and other platforms was becoming quite the thing. Turbo training for me has and will probably remain a means to keeping my legs loose during inclement weather. The idea of riding in a sort of video game holds little appeal for me and instead prefer spinning the time away while watching a Scandi-noir series, or, confession time now, Dallas! Several years ago I bought the complete DVD box set (14 seasons, 4 movies and some spin-offs) for £10. Good old JR’s antics are great for getting me to maintain a high cadence – around 100rpm for an hour, if you must know.

100,000 miles riden!
In 2011 I started using Strava to record my rides and on 17 May I reached a significant milestone – 100,000 miles recorded. To celebrate my achievement I did a 70-mile ride with my buddy Daren and we stopped for a photo as I crossed the line. I felt quietly pleased with myself. And indulging in a bit of bragging my 100K miles involved 2,800,000 feet of climbing (nearly equivalent to 100 ascents of Mt Everest), 156 century rides and 5,750 hours in the saddle. So there you are. I have it on good authority that the next 100K are all downhill. Extrapolating this backwards, if that’s even possible, I estimate that I must have ridden around 250,000 miles in my lifetime.

Suffolk sign spotting
As the summer unfolded I filled the time riding old routes on lanes and passing through villages that I haven’t seen for quite some time. Somewhere along the way I hit on a new challenge. Many villages in Britain have a pictorial sign depicting some aspect of their history and life. This set me thinking. How many villages in Suffolk have such signs and could I ride to and photograph all of them? With some giggling on the interweb I soon unearthed The Village Sign Society, paid the £8 joining subscription and was able to access their database where I discovered that there are nearly 500 signs in the county. So the challenge is on and I’ll tell you more in a future post. That’s a promise!!

Most years I try to ride a sportive in North Wales which holds some happy memories for me. This year I had hoped to ride the Tour de Môn (Anglesey) which I last rode a few years ago. It’s a spectacular day on a 100-mile circuit round the island. Pandemic precautions meant that this year the organisers had to cancel the event and instead offered to run it as an online sportive. I entered, downloaded the software and on the day of the event, accompanied by Daren I rode a circuit on the Fens. Not quite the same as riding on Anglesey but a good catalyst for a ride nevertheless and a few days afterwards I received a finishers medal to add to my collection.

Well that’s about all my news. I hope you won't have to wait too long before you hear from me again. As I write this the delayed Tour de France has just begun. It’s odd to think that neither the Froomedog nor G are taking part. I wonder how it’s going to pan out. I heard one commentator describe it as a bit like a game of pass the parcel. You know, whoever is wearing the yellow jersey when the race is finished, or aborted, is the winner. In the meantime I’m hoping that team Jumbo-Visma, riding Bianchi’s will be successful. I also hope that Julian Allaphillippe will have some success. A victory by a French rider is long overdue and if he has the form then might just pull it off. Au revoir lecteurs!

Tuesday 31 December 2019

Putting 2019 in Perspective

Well a whole year has gone by and I’ve been more than a little tardy in not keeping my blog up to date. My only (rather feeble) excuse is that time spent sitting at the keyboard is time that I’m not sitting on my saddle! Plus, I am only really motivated to write when the mood takes me AND I’ve got something worthwhile to write about. But the flipside of that is that without any posts you might think I’ve been doing nothing. Or worse! Quite the reverse actually. I've had a very busy year and as it’s the last day of 2019 and also my birthday I thought I would check in and tell you what I've been doing since I last posted about that stunning ride up Mount Lemon at the end of January.

After making the 1,500-mile round trip to Arizona for the Mount Lemon adventure, the following week Mary and I made a
Desert riding
1,000-mile round trip to take part in the Tour de Palm Springs. I rode the 100-mile route while Mary and Robin, who joined us in Palm Springs, opted for the 70-mile circuit. It was quite a well-organised event though I found the half-hour wait on the start line a tad tedious. The young kids in mariachi band which played while we were waiting were very entertaining. The stand-up comedian’s jokes were, I have to say, rather corny. And the long list of thank-you’s delivered by a local worthy were – let’s just say it was a long list. But after a quick blast of the national anthem we were soon underway. Despite being in the desert it was actually pretty cold and I was glad of the extra warmth provided by my Castelli Gabba jacket. After a somewhat lumpy start which raised my pulse and breathing rate we turned east onto a long (20-mile) and mostly downhill straight ending at a feed station. This was easy riding and I was able to maintain an average 20mph by barely turning the pedals. Some of the route was familiar to me as I was riding on roads that I last rode on last year on my tour across the USA. I felt quite at home too as I was riding with a group who were all kitted out in British-made Rapha clothing. They were quite taken aback when they realised that they were riding with a Brit. As the temperature warmed up I took off my Gabba to reveal a Team GB jersey.

The final 60 miles back to Palm Springs were gently uphill as we rose from sea level to about 500 feet. Apart from the eye candy provided by the scenery which covered everything from raw, bleak desert through rich and very green real estate to snow capped mountains I had two moments of excitement. First, my Garmin mount worked itself loose and fell off the handlebars. Fortunately the safety cord saved the day otherwise I might have been facing an expensive replacement. Having to then keep the Garmin in my jersey pocket was a bit irritating, especially as I seemed to reset it each time I removed it to see how far I’d gone. So my Strava record for the event suggests that I did four rides. Rather more exciting though was my arrival in Palm Springs. Approaching a junction I followed the signs and barriers round the left turn only to realise that I had entered a live oncoming traffic lane. I’d forgotten that they drive on the right here. The cacophony of shouts and whistles from the marshals and spectators was impressive. I rather nonchalantly bunny hopped over the central reservation into the right-hand lane, looked back over my shoulder and waved to the crowd!

On the Bianchi stand at the Tour of California
I returned to the UK in March and spent the next couple of months reacquainting myself with the Norfolk and Suffolk lanes. It made a nice change to be back on familiar roads. At the beginning of May it was time to head back to Sacramento. Soon after my arrival I spent an interesting Sunday morning watching the start of the Tour of California. Bianchi USA had a stand in the event village, so I dropped in to say hello and discovered that they knew about Passione Celeste – one of the team said he had read it. Maybe he was just being polite!

A beautiful ride!
In early June I set off with my buddy Gene, who I often ride with in Sacramento, to Lake Tahoe in the north-east corner of the state. Gene had told me about a sportive which advertised itself as America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride, so I needed little persuasion to go. It certainly was a great ride – about 70 miles with around 4,000 feet of climbing which doesn’t sound too challenging does it? The main physical challenge was the altitude as the start of the ride at 6.500 feet above sea level and the two main climbs certainly had me gasping for air. I could see virtually the whole 70-mile route from the start line as it went right around the lake. The scenery was spectacular – heavily forested mountain slopes with snow-capped summits. This is skiing country too; the 1960 Winter Olympics were held near here. Judging by the signs I saw there was also some pretty exciting mountain bike riding available. This was a great day out and I also got to ride in Nevada for the first time, so that’s another state ticked off, even if I only shaved a corner. And as for the claim of being America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride. Well, it certainly was beautiful. But MOST beautiful? More research is needed. A lot more!

Sweltering in the sun
The following weekend I was back in Southern California for L’Etape California. This was an event organised in close association with the Tour de France and provides amateur riders with the full experience of a grand tour stage. The route was centred on Mount Baldy and on paper looked pretty challenging – 90 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing. The route included two first category climbs and one HC (Hors Category or Beyond Category) climb. Always one for a challenge this seemed like a must do! Or so I thought! The ride itself was hard, very hard. But it was the heat that was the main challenge. At the start the temperature was already into the low 30’s C (mid 80’s F) and by mid-afternoon as I was ascending the penultimate climb it had reached 40oC (105oF). With no shelter I could feel myself frying in the sun. The north-facing curves on the hairpins provided momentary relief from the direct sun but the air still felt as if it had been superheated. This was reflected in my heart rate. Normally on a strenuous ride my heart rate averages about 120-125 beats per minute. Today my average was 150 bpm with a peak of 172bpm. And I could feel it. So much so that I turned back about ½ mile from the top of the final climb as I decided that caution was the sensible way to go. The summit of Mount Baldy will have to await another day. The final 10 miles were all downhill so I was able to gain some much-needed recovery. So much so that I was even able to muster a sprint to cross the finish line at nearly 30mph.

Going full gas through Cromer
I ended the month of June with a ride back in England, in Norfolk. Starting and finishing in Norwich, the course followed the route used earlier in the day for the British Professional Road Race Championships. Although most of the route was on open roads it was very enjoyable with surprisingly large numbers of spectators as we sped through the various villages along the way. Getting a cheer from the roadside does wonders for my ego! One of the most enjoyable parts of the day was the section we rode along the North Norfolk coast. I don’t ride up here very often but when I do I always enjoy it. For about 20 miles the road meandered along, never more than a mile from the sea. With a succession of small climbs and descents it provides a pretty good workout without being unduly taxing. Our return into Norwich was fantastic with the last section on closed roads with big crowds behind the barriers lining the streets. A cold beer (zero alcohol) provided by the organisers was just what was needed as I chatted to some of the other riders that I finished with.

Nearing the top of Pink Hill
Having ridden L’Etape California in June I unexpectedly had an opportunity to ride the UK version in mid-July. It was a good chance to compare the two events. The same Tour de France branding that was very visible in California was here too. I wore my new L’Etape California jersey too which generated quite a lot of interest from other riders, both in the starting pen and during the ride. Apart from comparing the two events I was excited to be riding in the Chilterns, west of London as this was where I lived as a teenager and where started riding seriously. We actually rode along part of the route that I used to ride on my daily journey to school. So there was a lot of nostalgia for me today. The Chilterns boast numerous short, sharp, steep climbs and is where I acquired my limited hill-climbing abilities. The profile for the course looked like a saw blade with over 7,000 feet of climbing along the 100-mile route. Although the climbs were short some were pretty steep, touching 30% in a couple of places. I remembered the climb of Pink Hill well which was where my Dad taught me to hill-start when I was learning to drive. I could almost smell a burning clutch as I rode up it! And what of the two events? Well the California one edged it by the thinnest of margins, a mere tyre width. The weather, scenery and friendliness of the support crew and California Highway Patrol officers who managed the car traffic were the plus points.

Three amigos - a reunion with Greg and Pete
August saw me doing something I last did in 2015, a Land’s End to John O’Groats tour. This time I was the tour leader taking 18 other riders on the journey. They were a pretty diverse group both in terms of age and riding experience, but they bonded well as a team and I was very proud to see them all standing on the finish line in John O’Groats. It was fun listening to them talking about their experiences at the finish. It brought back so many memories of my own ride in 2015. You can read about my 2015 adventure elsewhere in this blog and also in my book, Passione Celeste. This year’s route was very similar to the 2015 one with a few minor differences including a climb through Cheddar Gorge which I hadn’t ridden before and, despite the best efforts of the rain, was spectacular. One of the riders on the Lejog was Greg who comes from Tulsa, Oklahoma and with whom I last rode with in 2018 on my tour across the USA was one of the team. It was great to catch up with him and reminisce about our experiences. I also arranged for Pete, my USA Tour ‘Brother’ join us on one of the stages in southern Scotland. This was a complete surprise for Greg and we rode together from Peebles to the outskirts of Edinburgh. The look on Greg’s face when he first saw Pete was quite something.

I also completed my longest ride of the year in August – 135 miles. This was a 100-mile sportive and I got the extra miles by riding from home to the start and back at the end. The course took us round much of Suffolk on roads that I am very familiar with. The actual route was not one I had followed before so it was really enjoyable to see the scenery through someone else’s eyes as it were. It was an unusually hot day too and made me think of California which I yearned to return to.

During September I had my longest spell this year off the bike. This was because for a week I crossed over to the dark side and went hiking. This was a momentous occasion since in 2005, together with a college friend, I set out to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path from Minehead in Somerset to South Haven Point in Dorset. We have walked most years in between, usually taking a week in either May or September. Walking speed was definitely not the objective. Quite the reverse. It has been much more about chilling out in the countryside, admiring the spectacular coastal views and meeting an amazing number of interesting and in some cases, eccentric people along the way. We both enjoy a good curry so the other objective was to eat as many as we could. At the final count, after 64 days walking we have consumed 45 curries! It was a strange feeling when we finished and I felt quite disconcerted. Having spent so many years pursuing our goal, finishing it left me feeling quite empty. What next I wonder? Well, we have tentatively thought about continuing to walk eastwards along England’s south coast maybe as far as London. Nothing definite is scheduled though.

This year the UCI World Road Championships were held in Yorkshire and the UCI had sanctioned a sportive which followed much of the road race circuit so this was an event not to be missed. Towards the end of September I drove up to Harrogate and rode the event. Leaving aside the wet weather which prevailed throughout the week of the World Championships the 90-mile, 7,000-feet event was very well organised on what turned out to be a challenging course.

Trying to look happy at the wet
World Championships
The first challenge came immediately after the first feed station in Pateley Bridge. In his climber’s bible Simon Warren says this about the climb of Greenhow Hill. “Here the pain comes in bursts over four distinct stretches of really tough climbing, with brief respite in between each. Attack each hard section, get your breath back, spin the legs, then attack the next.” Well that pretty well sums it up – the pain and the breathlessness parts are certainly accurate! As I rode up the first stretch I could see riders ahead of me meandering back and forth across the road in a desperate attempt to maintain their forward momentum. Nearing the top of this first stretch I was closing on a rider in front of me who looked as if they might grind to a halt and fall off at any moment. As I closed up I could see a man sitting on a bank above the tarmac watching the struggling rider. Then in a thick Yorkshire accent he commented: ”Aye lad, keep going. The toughest bit is yet to come.” Well that did it for the hapless rider who unclipped and stopped, electing to walk for a bit. I was more fortunate and was able to keep moving. Just. And yes, the rest of the climb was at least as tough as the first stretch. But I made it in about 20 minutes. Simon Warren’s target time for the climb is 16 minutes so I was quite pleased with my effort.

Part of the course was along roads that I had ridden in August on my Lejog tour so it was nice to have a bit of inside knowledge about what I was riding into. Nothing too strenuous as it turned out. Apart from the climbing, the main challenge of the day was the rain. Lots of prolonged heavy showers making the road surfaces very wet and muddy. Looking in the mirror when I had a shower after the event I could see the outline of my riding glasses which had shielded part of my face from the spray and dirt. And to think I paid money to do this!

At the end of September it was time to head back to California and in mid-October Mary and we drove down to southern California for the Tour D’Orange. This is an event which is organised by a friend of ours, Robin, and raises money for charity. Robin had recruited us to help her with setting up and running the event. We spent the day before signing the three courses which cater for family groups through to experienced longer distance cyclists. The shortest route enables riders to visit many of the historic sites and properties in the town with each being marked by a specially numbered sign. This is the third year that Robin has run the event so she has a complete mastery of the easiest way to set out the signs on the three interlocking routes. I got quite confused about our geography as a consequence and we didn’t finish laying out the routes until midnight when it was totally dark.

A metric century celebration
I was a ride marshal for the longest, 60-mile route. My role meant that I had to be able to help any riders in difficulty and act as the last rider on the road sweeping up any stragglers. It was quite a strange feeling to ride around the course again, especially on the more rural section which we had signed in the dark. I was surprised to find myself riding gently uphill through a beautiful canyon which I had no idea existed when I was there 12 hours before. Towards the latter part of the event I joined up with two other riders, Royce who had never ridden a metric century (100km) before and John who was a more experienced rider. As we crossed the finish line we realised that we were about 2 km short of the century so we did a few circuits around the town centre to record the requisite mileage. The happiness on Royce’s face and in his voice when he finally crossed the line and was reunited with his family was a total delight. So ‘Chapeau’ Royce! It was great riding with you and John.

I remained in Sacramento until just before Xmas, enjoying several rides on the wonderful American River Trail with Gene. I also made a number of forays into the wider countryside and I am starting to get a few new and longer routes mapped which I hope to develop next year. By the end of the year I managed to get just over 9,000 miles into my wheels which, by my recent standards, represents a quiet year. When I was not riding, I was working on another top-secret project, the results of which I hope to announce early in 2020.

People often ask me what was the highlight of my riding year? Well in 2019 it might have been the ascent of Mount Lemon. Or maybe it was one of the L’Etapes. Or perhaps the Worlds. Well, if I was being totally true, the highlight of my year was being able to ride wherever I was and whenever I wanted to. Long may that continue…

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Mount Lemmon, Arizona – A Peach Of A Ride

Hello Readers! I really must apologise for the break in service. It’s been six months since I last wrote to you and you’ve probably been thinking that I’ve fallen off the bike or worse. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve actually been very busy on several fronts including some superb riding. Following the end of the USA tour I returned to the UK and spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the experience and even more time trying to sort out and caption my photographs. I also wrote an article about the tour which, if you’re interested, you can read here.

Sacramento - on message!
I said I’d been busy so, what have I been up to? Well in August I was back in the USA, in Sacramento in Northern California. While I was there I also headed down to Southern California to ride the Cool Breeze Sportive (100 miles) which was really cool. It was great to be able to experience an American event and compare it to those in the UK. I’ve also done quite a lot of riding around Sacramento which has a fabulous network of cycle trails – some of the best local riding I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. The opportunity to ride on traffic-free, paved routes through spectacular urban countryside is exhilarating. The American River Trail to Folsom is a total delight.

Team Super 6 ready for the off ...
In September, Team Super Six gathered together again and we rode a six-day tour in Italy, from Pisa on the west coast to Senigallia on the Adriatic. Our route took us eastwards through Tuscany before we headed south into Umbria eventually looping back northwards through the Marche region to the coast. This was the complete package with stunning scenery, lovely old hilltop towns and villages and great roads including some Tuscan white roads (Strade Bianche). The ‘domestics’ were great too – fabulous accommodation, including a night in a former royal palace, as well as the very best of traditional Italian cuisine, accompanied by superb local wines. The riding was excellent and it was huge fun riding with Team Super Six again. Although we only get together once a year, when we do meet it feels like we were together just the day before.

Captain Century rides the redwood!
At the end of October I was back in Northern California to do, amongst other things, one of my bucket list rides – the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately smoke from the horrific fires that hit California meant that riding opportunities were severely curtailed. We made up for this with a wonderful trip to the coast to see the giant redwood forests – a truly humbling experience. Riding through, literally a 1,500 year-old redwood tree, was a first for me. From my former career as a forester I have long wanted to see the ancient redwood forests so the opportunity to achieve this was not one to be passed up. By now some of you maybe wondering why I keep coming back to California. Well, let’s me just say that it’s not all about the bike! As I write this I’m on a short trip from Sacramento visiting friends in Scottsdale, Arizona. Which brings me to the reason why I’ve decided to start tapping the keyboard today.

A few months ago an article in Cyclist magazine (Issue 77), which I read voraciously, caught my eye. The article “Raising Arizona” by James Spender really captured my imagination and if you can readers, look it out. It’s well worth reading. I realised that Scottsdale where my friends lived, was only about 100 miles from Tucson. No distance at all in US driving terms as I’ve learned. So Mary and I set off early in the morning bound for Tucson and Mount Lemmon. A couple of hours later we were in a parking lot on the outskirts of Tucson. My Bianchi Infinito (Fausto), who now lives in Sacramento, was rearing to go and so was I. So with a couple of photos to commemorate ‘Le Depart’ I was underway. Mary had agreed to SAG the ride for me so I didn’t have to worry about hydration as she had plenty of spare water bottles in her car.

A long straight road, gently rising upwards, took us out of Tucson through scrubby desert. Ahead of me I could see the lower slopes of Mount Lemmon, defined by a long ridge of rock crossing in front of me and rising from the plains. With each turn of the pedals I drew closer and began to get an inkling of the scale of the challenge that lay ahead. Then as I rounded a right-hand hairpin the ‘proper’ climbing began. Ahead of me lay about 25 miles of riding with nearly 7,000 feet of climbing. Game on!

Not even halfway up ...
Looking to my right I could see the valley floor that I had just ridden across. What surprised me was how many houses were tucked away amongst the desert scrub with the Saguaro Cactus trees poking through the undergrowth. Although I had never been here before this was a landscape that felt very familiar from watching episodes of The High Chaparral as a kid. I could almost see Big John Cannon, Buck and Blue galloping across the land with a cloud of dust trailing behind them. The landscape is harsh and I guessed that during the hot summer months this would be a brutal place to live.

As I made my way ever upwards the road twisted and turned through a series of sweeping curves with views back down to the road I had ridden along several minutes before. The succession of rocky ridges and shoulders meant that it was difficult to gauge my progress. Cresting each ridge revealed another ridge with hints of the road snaking upwards. My progress was marked by a succession of viewpoints and I struggled to balance the need to keep riding onwards and upwards with the temptation to stop and soak up the magnificent views. I think I managed to achieve the right balance. From time to time, Mary caught up with me so I was able to refill my water bottle. The importance of finding water to stay hydrated on the climb was something I had noted in James’s article so today, at least, that was less of a consideration for me.

Nearly there!
As I headed ever upwards I could feel my breathing was getting slightly more laboured and my heart rate was higher than usual. Reaching the road sign for 8,000 feet altitude explained this. I had passed the 4,000 feet sign about 90 minutes before so I had climbed 4,000 feet over about 25 miles. Despite the rarefied air I felt pretty good, although my legs certainly knew they had received a workout. The landscape too had changed dramatically.  Gone was the scrubby dessert vegetation which had been replaced by pine trees with the heady smell of resin in the air. Gone too was the dessert sand as I was now surrounded by the remnants of some fairly large snow drifts. The other main change was a significant drop in temperature so I took off my lightweight short sleeved jersey and replaced it with my windproof Castelli Gabba jacket. Cycling readers will understand what I am referring to here. The rest of you – well take it from me that I was snug and ready for the last leg to Summerhaven with, according to James, the promise of an excellent cookie. Sure enough, the Cookie Cabin was easy to find and, better still, open. I opted for a 7” oatmeal and raisin number which, given the calories I had burnt on my ascent, I felt quite justified in chowing down.

Is it a lemon or a peach? No it's a giant cookie!
I was now ready for what I confidently anticipated was going to be the reward for my climbing effort. The  return leg. The prospect of riding about 25 miles downhill on a smooth, largely traffic-free road with open sweeping curves had me drooling. And I was not disappointed! The descent was the best I have ever completed. I freewheeled most of the way down and my speed never dropped below 30 mph and I topped 40 mph at a few points. (Mary clocked me at 45 mph on her car speedo at one point so I’ll take that.) If I had known the road better and with higher gearing I reckon I could have been much, much quicker. My ascent took me about 2.5 hours (riding time). By contrast I was back in Tucson, complete with a lovely sunset, a mere 70 minutes after leaving Summerhaven.

What a ride! Definitely not a bitter lemon; more like a sweet peach! I can confidently say that it was up there with the best. Sitting in the car on our drive back to Phoenix I was buzzing and full of that warm glow that readers who ride will recognise after a great and demanding day in the saddle. I would love to do it again one day. But like JoJo in the Beatles song “Get Back” which James quoted in the introduction to his article, I’ll soon be leaving Arizona for California. And as for the why, you’ll just have to watch this space readers …