Something Happened This Time Last Year!

After returning from the cycle ride from southern Spain to northern Norway in 2018. I chilled out for a couple of months and planned an ice climbing trip to northern Finland, Sweden and Norway. Due to take place in March last year, it never happened.

P_20190627_205551_vHDR_AutoOn February 4th a potential life changing incident happened. Not while cycling or climbing or doing any activity that could result in injury. Sitting in front of a computer, my back went into spasm. My right leg felt as though it would explode. This sounds like a case of exaggeration, it isn’t. Hyperventilating and repeatedly punching my right thigh, the sight must have looked like a dark comedy. Two paramedics filled the small study room where I was writhing around and pumped me with morphine and other so-called pain killers like Tramadol, sadly to little effect. Off to hospital where discussions for an immediate spinal operation were discussed. My mildly deformed Lumbar had trapped my Sciatic nerve. Hours passed, then surprisingly I was sent home, not that I remember. The following day the pain forced me back to A and E and I was put on a ward but only for a few hours before again being discharged. The next day I wanted to amputate my right leg. Taken to a GP, she immediately ordered an ambulance and for the second time was blue lighted to hospital where I was again admitted. The pain killers could not be given fast enough and I craved them hours before the next batch were due. The doctors who visited me talked about operating, however as the days went on nothing materialized, it just fizzed out. I was high on drugs and was to remain so for weeks. My right leg was hardly usable and over the next month would shrivel to half its size with a 28-pound loss in body weight. Sleep was only possible for an hour or so after the pain killers, I had to have a bed tent over my leg, nothing could touch my leg, which for the first couple of weeks, I had to drag around. Without crutches I was immobile. Throughout all this my wife was brilliant, trying to get me to eat, stopping me overdosing on pain killers and encouraging me to think positively.

Anyway, “enough!” I hear you say. So, to round up this misfortune. After six weeks on crutches, things did start to improve. I was angry and frustrated and having been told that exercise would not hinder the healing process, I threw myself into exercise and training. Any amount of discomfort caused by this training was insignificant in comparison to what followed in the weeks after February 4th.

I suppose this tale champions the idea that yes, there is the possibility that you may have an accident whilst cycling, ice climbing or any other numerous sports, but you can also fall foul to injury by just doing nothing at the computer. Ironic! The concerning thing is that no one knows what triggered this and therefore there is no telling if, or when it will repeat itself and that is slightly concerning. I have put a photo of my legs on the website to show the difference between the two. It was taken about three months after the incident.

Let’s move away from this now.

Several of the following trips were planned and or undertaken out of determination that my active life was to continue. I turn 66 this year and certainly have not finished exploring and enjoying this wonderful world we live in.

All the following trips have photos posted in the gallery section of the website.

P_20190510_130244PORTUGAL:- This trip above all was planned spontaneously. As a solo outing it was to be a personal test. I had serious doubts as to whether my leg would be up to the planned climbs in northern and central Portugal. I achieved over 10,000m of elevation in 600km, but the wattage was pathetic. I returned with mixed feelings having enjoyed the country but seriously doubting if my leg would ever recover.

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BAVARIA and AUSTRIA: – My ever supportive wife and I drove to Bavaria for a sightseeing and cycling holiday. We thoroughly enjoyed our time. I took off early one morning to cycle the KITZBUHELER HORN, with its average gradient of 13%, achieving a reasonable placement on Strava and was back for breakfast for our 70km ride together. This was the first time that I had smiled for a long time on the bike, perhaps due to the exhilarating and cavalier descent.

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PYRENEES:- Andy Hill, such a good friend, we have known each other for over 35 years, hiked and climbed together and cycled across America from Seattle to Boston in forty days covering 4,000 miles. It was Andy again who organized a trip across the Pyrenees. Starting at Biarritz, he had, as usual included every possible climb east across to Perpignam. The last couple of days pushed me to the limit. I was thankful for his company because without it my resolve would have failed. Pain can be debilitating.

 

P_20191016_190244_vHDR_Auto_HPSPAIN:- I am working my way through all the cycling climbs in a book called Mountain High Europe’s greatest cycling climbs by Daniel  Friebe and Peter Goding. In which there are three climbs out on a limb in southern Spain. On the back of the Pyrenean trip, I planned a solo trip to do Pico de Veleta, Calar Alto and Sierra de la Pandere. I decided to ‘wild camp’ to give me total freedom. Now there was a light at the end of the tunnel of recovery. Perhaps I would never be able to produce the 400w power again, but I would be able to continue to cycle without compromise. The timing of this trip was spot on! As the plane lifted away from the runway, I saw that the High Sierra had now been plastered with snow.

7ec24f61555878be82c93d9a3dc7b43b50e5d0e7850b736c32d93e6283c32444AUSTRALIA:-  The part of Western Australia we visit is flat, very flat. The tarmac is rough, the weather hot, hotter than usual, the bush fires that were to ravish the country had just started. I rode through smoke on one notable ride. No one had any inclination as to what was to follow. The long flat rides were a pleasure and my still recovering leg benefited from the warmth and lack of hills. The main dangers are snakes on the road and dive-bombing aggressive Magpies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALAPLAND AND NORWAY:- A departure from cycling, although a ride on a Fat Tyre cycle in deep snow was attempted. Every year I try and find a different country to go ice climbing and this was the trip that had been planned for the previous March. Postponed until January this year, my good friends Neil and Sean came along for a week of excellent ICE CLIMBING and what a week we had. Mickael Backman of Bliss Adventure did us proud. He had been completely understanding when I had had to postpone the trip back in February and during the year we had exchanged numerous emails and before we ever met, we felt as though we knew each other. He could not do enough for us. I have had many guides over the years and many have been so good, Mickael is up with the very best of them. If anyone is thinking of ice climbing in Finland, Sweden or Norway, I would not hesitate to recommend Bliss. In February sunrise was at 10.30 and sunset at 2.30. We climbed in daylight, at venues that were floodlit and we climbed by head torch. With the last couple of days skiing, dog sledding and snow mobiles, this was a special trip. My thanks to Mickael and definitely Neil and Sean.

AND OF 2020:- This year has seen the planning of a cycling trip from Athens back to Yorkshire via 22 cycling climbs in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France most taken from  the Mountain High book. Incidentally Luke, a good friend, has informed me that a further book containing many more climbs has now been published, is there ever an end….  There is also a possibility that there will be a climb on the Eiger in August.

As I write this the Coronavirus is taking hold of so many countries. No one can know the outcome yet. Maybe there will be no trips this year.

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TARIFA TO NORDKAPP – a cycle ride from Southern Spain to Northern Norway

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is only a short article to accompany the photos that have now been put onto the website. Thank you all for your support throughout my ride. Those of you who know me will not be surprised that several thousand photos were taken during the 8,000 km ride.

My blog, which I wrote most evenings, hopefully sketched a picture of daily events, the joys, frustrations, elation, lows, injuries and sheer marvelment of the diversity of the countries I traveled through and the people I met on my way.

There is talk of a book being published, one that will contain the very best of the photographs and be accompanied with both blog entries and additional humorous and observational anecdotes.

As mentioned in my closing rambles, whilst enjoying the luxuries of a Hurtigruten cruise ferry to Bergen, I have now calculated some figures.

Total days spent cycling = 78

Total distance covered = 7,946.91 km

Total time spent in the saddle = 484 hours and 5 minutes

Total elevation gained = 94,816m (the equivalent to 10.7 Everest ascents).

Total calories utilised = 200,898 (25.2 per km cycled)

Average bpm whilst cycling = 91 (double resting pulse)

Countries visited:- Spain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Belgium (I liked Belgium), Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway.

Number of notable climbs:- Fifteen, five of these climbs exceeded 1,000m of continuous elevation and included such classics as Alto del Angliru and Lagos de Covadongo in Spain and Col d Aubisque, Hautacam and Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, with two short punchy climbs in Belgium, Mur de Huy and La Redoute.

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Images of Bergen 6th August

Suffering withdrawal symptoms from cycling, however Bergen is a great city.

The hills are very steep.

Indecision is acceptable and understandable.

Nectar comes in glasses.

Warming up on a 140 round a minute anti aircraft gun, wives should be obeyed implicitly.

What no handle bars and a peculiar shaped wheel!

Getting lost amongst the numerous timber houses.

Deep into the Bryggen back streets of Bergen.

Cobbles and timber houses dating back to the 1700’s.

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A Leisurely Return from 71°10’21” to Honningsvag via Skarsvag. 28th July.

Back at my Honningsvag seaside residence, found by Brian (my thanks friend), I had just opened my ‘early’ evening beer, a Mack, remember the most northerly brewery on the world in Tromso, ….

Note the nice little touch on the pull ring.

…. when a man carrying a fishing rod walked through my back garden to the sea. For a fleeting moment I thought of offering him my ‘later’ evening beer, thankfully the moment evaporated quickly. Within fifteen minutes he had caught a sizable fish ‘this size’ that didn’t get away. It would have taken him more time to go shopping for it. These waters must be teeming with fish. Yesterday I took a video of hundreds of fish jumping, creating a sound like waves on the shore.

The anticipated feeling of anti climax never arrived. With the weather remaining perfect, beautiful surroundings, reindeer with calves at foot grazing the hills and a sense of achievement, I was feeling good.

Last night whilst waiting patiently for an opportunity to take a photo, a gentleman offered to take my picture beside the Globe. Frank and I immediately fell into conversation and spent the next few hours happily chatting. You really do meet some great people when you travel. Retired early through hard work and intellect, he had ridden his BMW from his home country of Germany.

Having pitched my tent near the north facing cliffs, I returned to the Globe to wait for the midnight sun. As the hour approached those of us who had arrived in plenty of time were edged aside by the professional late comers who have the ability to arrive at the front of any crowd without seemingly moving. Impervious to any protest, they stubbornly remain allowing others of their group to also achieve pole position. Perhaps the fence on the cliff’s edge shouldn’t be do sturdy.

The visitor’s centre at Nordkapp is impressive, providing information on natural history, historical events and a curved screen video of life at Nordkapp through the four seasons.

Part of the display of birds found in the region.

Here is a brief time line of some events:-

1539 – The Swedish priest Olaus Magnus drew a map of northern Europe. He filled in the undiscovered areas with sea monsters attacking ships. Nothing like instilling confidence in sailors.

1553 -The Knyskanes rock was first named North Cape by the English captain and navigator Richard Chancellor, in his search for his route to China.

1664 – Francesco Negri from Ravenna, Italy visits and is subsequently considered the first tourist to the area.

1873 – On 2nd July King Oscar ll of the Norway-Sweden union unveiled the royal monument to indicate the northern most point of the Norwegian kingdom.

1950 – Olav V, beloved king of Norway visited Nordkapp.

1956 – The road to Nordkapp was opened on 30th June. The first car having visited the previous year to start the Cape to Cape race to Cape Town.

1984 – On 7th June the Royal North Cape Club was founded, with the unveiling of the Midnight Sun Road.

The trusting nature of Norwegians is refreshing, cycles, vehicle snow tyres and other items of value left unattended and rightfully they are proud of their honesty. However with hundreds of other tourists around I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my cycle and gear unattended during the 20km walk I’d planned, so rode back to Honningsvag via a detour, to Skarsvag, which is, guess, yes, the most northerly fishing harbour in the world.

My previous less than complementary comments regarding the competency of some RV drivers was borne out when I heard the sound of metal scraping on tarmac as a RV rejoined the road from a layby at the top of the last long and sustained descent back to Honningsvag. I had stopped to check that my load was secure. Something getting caught in the spokes at 60km/h would have consequences. Turning, I saw the RV drive up the hill with it’s rear access ladder dragging on the road, door wide open and items falling from the vehicle. Any following vehicles would have had to negotiate the debris to be able to over take and advise the driver.

After a brief stop to take a photo with a coach party, both the coach and I set off down the hill. An exciting descent would be an understatement, pure enjoyment. Topped by half the passengers waving and clapping as they over took me as the hill ran out onto flat ground. The driver even touched his horn.

Tomorrow will be a chilling out day in Honningsvag, a town I now know well. Then a 4am rise on Monday to catch the 5.45am departing MS Nordkapp to Tromso, stopping at Hammerfest, the world’s most northerly city!

Honningsvag harbour.

The Nordkapp arrives to take me and Hugh to Tromso. I met Hugh from Bristol, UK as we both waited for her.

An expensive but excellent IPA.

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Today I Finished a Wonderful Journey. 27th July.

The Globe at Nordkapp.

I have pitched my tent 400m from and parallel with the globe that marks the furthest land point of Europe. So tonight, for one night only, I will be the most northerly inhabitant of Europe. To the east I can clearly see the Russian coastline and the next land mass to the north west is Greenland, which I certainly can not see. Looking due north there is no land mass until the northern coast of Alaska. Quite a thought.

The weather is perfect, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze. There is an uninterrupted 180 degree view of the sea with the occasional small fishing boat passing by with it’s tail of seagulls flying noisily behind. Somewhere out in front of me is the invisible dividing line between the North Sea and the larger Barents Sea, with it’s huge untapped resources of oil and gas.

A pair of reindeer have just wandered pass the tent. It isn’t often anyone can say that and whilst I remember, this morning as I packed up the tent I was treated to three brief glimpses of a Sea Otter.

Children of the Earth. Created by seven children from around the world who came together for a week at Nordkapp to create a symbol for. World peace.

It is beyond me to describe just how serene and beautiful this place is. However, and not only in the winter, it can be a desperate place to be, with winds strong enough to pick up stones and hurl them through the air.

I have been here for some hours and yet the fact that there is no more cycling to do has not fully registered. No more maps to read, plans to amend, wild camps to find or daily food shops.

This cycle ride has been an epic, longer than any trip to climb an 8,000m mountain. I have met some fantastic people, some I hope will remain in contact. I’ve seen innumerable places throughout Europe, learnt more than I ever though possible and whilst I have turned the peddles, sweated, hurt and swore at idiot drivers and determined flies, mosquitoes and tics. …..

(Hot, bitten by mosquitoes, pestered by flies, target practice for RV drivers, another hill never to be recycled, is completed.)

…. I have also shouted out loud with joy and exhilaration, sung tunelessly at the top of my voice in the darkest, coldest road tunnels and pushed the boundaries of safety to gain a greater speed on long steep descents.

Whilst I thank everyone who cycled with me. Whether planned or by chance and good fortune, the one person I really want to thank is Anne, my wife. Who is not only my wife but also my weather girl, my hostel booker and my link with the real world.

Tonight with a continuing clear sky the midnight sun will be very visible.

And it was!

Tomorrow I will cycle the hilly 35km back to Honningsvag and perhaps do the hike to Knivskjelladdon, provided I can secure the bike.

The statistics – I have purposely not delved into any stats. beyond each days figures. I didn’t want to initiate any reoccurring thoughts revolving around, ‘only another 1,000km to ride, only another 6,000m of elevation’. What I can say is I believe I have exceeded the intended 8,000km. Just in July has seen 1,600 miles covered and 31,898m of climbing, nearly four Everest’s in one month. When I get home I’ll work it all out and post it for you to see.

As you all know I am raising money for cancer research. Many of you have been very generous and I thank you so much for your donation. Others perhaps have got it on their ‘to do’ list. Please, please make that donation. I have a Just Giving page – http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tim-ralph

This won’t be the last blog of the trip. I’ll post all the stats and continue to harass you to donate to cancer research. I also intend posting several hundred photos of the trip on my website, although that won’t be for a few weeks.

I would like to add a further note about cancer. Recently a very dear and close friend had an operation to remove a cancerous growth. Whilst she is both physically and mentally strong, she still has a fight ahead of her. She is young and beautiful and does not deserve to have this terrible disease. I make no apologies for mentioning this, if it results in more money for research.

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A Day of R and R. 26th July.

I could have risen early, packed up the tent in the rain and cycled into town to look around. However today was planned as a rest and recuperation day. Arguably I needed neither, but there is little else to do. The rain continued until 11am and I continued to remain lazy until that time too. I’ve since looked around Honningsvag and the museum.

One of the Hurtiguten ships dock in Honningsvag.

Querky things abound in unusual places. These ‘souls’ obviously survived the stormy seas.

Honningsvag’s main attraction has to be it’s museum. I spent an enjoyable two hours learning about both its ancient dwellings and modern history. The sorcery laws of the 15 and 16th centuries, resulting in death of both men and women. The ‘Scorched Earth Policy’ the Nazi’s operated in all villages and towns in this area and the rebuilding programme. The sinking of the German battle ship, Scharnhorst by four allied Destroyers. The past whaling and current fishing industries and future oil and gas production from the Barents sea and a surprising piece of random information was the fact that Honningsvag in the 1960’s was known as ‘ Little Chicago’s, for it unruly and gangster racketeering.

Honningvag harbour.

Part of Honningsvag.

It was inevitable!

This evening a had a coffee where the only other customer was another cyclist. We immediately fell into conversation. Aldo Rock, an Italian with perfect English, was energy loading before setting off on his road cycle to Nordkapp. Initially a ‘Dark Horse’, as we chatted about sport it came to light Aldo has competed in the cycle race across America. He is also a Triathlete and has a radio and TV station in Italy and is giving a radio interview from Nordkapp this evening at midnight, hopefully with the midnight sun shining. Now that’s how to mix work and play.

Aldo, if you read this I hope the ride to Norkapp wasn’t too arduous. The wind was particularly strong. It was good to meet you, hopefully one day our paths will cross again.

My home for tonight.

CORRECTION:- In a previous blog I refered to the Inuit people. This was a mistake, the reference was to the Sami people.

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Nearing the Finishing Line. 25th July.

The patchy rain forecasted for today was ‘patchless’, seamless as it hammered down on my tent during the early hours. This did not bode well for the ride up to Honningsvag. However after a coffee in the restaurant attached to the campsite, the skies had cleared and the signs were good.

The route from Olderfjord to Honningsvag consisted of far reaching sea views, open windswept country, sea cliffs, tunnels and reindeer.

Cod drying racks.

With the calm sea to my right the E69 hugged the coast, weaving in and out of numerous coves. With a brisk wind coming in from the west, there were times when it was blowing directly at you and others when it was pushing you at 40km/h depending whether you were cycling the southside of the deep cutting coves or the north. Around Repvag it is necessary to climb up over the north east peninsula and head west into the wind before entering the Nordkapp sea tunnel. This was hard work and I was willing the tunnel to arrive to give restbite from the wind.

At 6,870m and 212m below sea level, with a 9% ‘hill’ down into it and a longer 9% ‘hill’ out of it, the tunnel holds a certain respect by cyclists. Some write having had frightening experiences and loathed every minute in it. This instills trepidation in all about to enter it, including me. Having put both my rear lights on and front light and layered up, in I cycled.

On reaching this far north in Norway every cyclist would have now been through many tunnels. What made this one so different was the immediate massive temperature drop, enhanced by the speed that you descend under the sea. Lighting provided in the tunnel is minimal and the noise of the extractor fans trying to remove the fog is loud. It is also true that sound is distorted particularly with motorcycles sounding like trains. The ascent back out was long and with vehicles passing, care was needed. My main concern, as it has been for many days, is the incompetence of some RV drivers. The problem being it is impossible to identify those excellent drivers and those who should not be in charge of a RV. However the overall experience was enjoyable and the warmth that greets you ad you emerge is welcoming.

A further two tunnels, the final one, The Honningsvag tunnel, at 4,440m cutting through a 400m high mountain brings you a less than auspicious area consisting of a desensitization plant and derelict concrete silos before Remi1000 welcomes you into Honningsvag town. A town completely rebuilt after the Nazi’s burnt it to the ground as they retreated in 1945.

During the ride I saw numerous reindeer. I took some time to get reasonably close to this cow and calf.

Brian, the recently retired GP from Glasgow, who was great company for a few days, way back sometime somewhere, mailed to say he had been to Nordkapp and was now in Honningsvag and suggested having a meal and drink together before he headed home early on 26th on one of the Hurtigruten ships. We enjoyed a pizza and some beer together whilst our bikes got soaked outside. Not able to delay out departure any longer we headed off to try and find a derelict building to save putting the tents up, as he had to be on the ship by 5am. Unsuccessful, we pitched the tents overlooking the sea, said farewell to each other and slept though a wet night. I heard Brian’s alarm, but was back to sleep immediately.

I how have four days until I board the MS Nordkapp for Tromso to meet Anne for our trip south to Bergen. I think I’m going to get to know the island of Mageroya very well.

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