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Spokes Cycle Touring Club
19th & 20th March... A great time was had by all.. the sun was shining, great cycling, fab company and good beer and food!
Wednesday 6th April to 13 April ... another fantastic trip in the sun drenched isle of Majorca,
Majorca 2011 by Martin Pingel
I think the Club had been to Majorca on 5 previous occasions and so, although I wanted to go again, I wasn’t sure if the club had grown tired of the place. I was pleasantly surprised when the club approved the trip at the AGM and pleased at the final number of 15 participants, vindicating the decision.
My first trip to Majorca was to the NE corner of the island and then we’d had 2 years down in the SE which, although were very picturesque and beautiful places, were generally in the flattest areas of the island. This time I decided we’d go to an area that Spokes had been to before and sample some of the mountainous terrain on offer. Port Pollensa, which lies on the coast at the north end of the Tramontana range of mountains, was to be our base.
The Tramontana range of mountains runs the full length of the island along the NW coast and at its highest point, of almost 1500m, is higher than anything in the UK. So I knew we were in for some interesting rides.
Unbelievably we all arrived on the Wednesday without any dramas despite arriving on three different flights from three different departure airports. Well almost without drama as Martin Steer got a bit lost, with his policeman friend Isaac, in their hire car, and did a number of circuits of Port Pollensa before eventually finding our hotel. Only damage was falling behind on the drinking quota but that was soon remedied!!
Hotel was what they call an aparthotel – we all had a one bedroom apartment, which could sleep 4, although generally each apartment was shared by 2. Each apartment comprised a bathroom, kitchen/dining room and a balcony. The apartments were in blocks three storeys high and arranged around the pool area and hotel complex which had a bar and restaurant. It proved to be an ideal arrangement for us and the staff at the hotel couldn’t have been more helpful or cheerful. They’d even set aside 2 empty apartments for us to keep our bikes in.
The bikes arrived the next day at 9am courtesy of Hannes and Velosport Majorca. We all had lightweight road bikes equipped with top range Ultegra groupsets, triple chainsets and some very nice Mavic wheels. Some had drop handle bars whilst others opted for straight bars – they were all up to the usual high standard and apart from a couple of punctures they all worked really well.
I’d pre-planned a number of rides of varying distances and severity before the event so it was just a matter of deciding which route we’d go on the night before. Generally we would do a ride out into the flat lands one day and then go for a more mountainous route the next.
The routes were designed so that there were various options during the ride for cutting it short or extending it depending on how the day went or how you were feeling. There was always the compulsory mid morning café stops and long relaxed lunches. The emphasis was on flexibility and choice and I like to think that it went as well as could be expected when you consider there were 15 individuals all of different abilities.
Ports Pollensa was a really pretty place, lots of restaurants, with a lovely sea front and harbour. The place had a nice buzz about it, but wasn’t rowdy and proved to be ideal if not idyllic.
As any of you will know the socialising part of a Spokes event is as important as the cycling, so eating out in the evening is a major part of the holiday. There were so many different places to eat that you could probably dine out for a month and not go to the same place twice!
I’d guess that eating out cost was equivalent to UK prices, so not particularly cheap, although we did have one very good 3 course meal at the hotel for a mere 10 Euros. Beer at the hotel was acceptable at around 3.50 Euros a pint so that kept most of us beer swilling blokes happy!
The riding – well most rode everyday and averaged around 50 miles for the six days we had the bikes but it varied quite a bit amongst the group. Clare went off walking on one day and Carl could be seen jogging around the town at various times.
One particular ride down to a place called Sa Colobra caught the imagination of those who hadn’t done any mountain cycling before. The descent, on a snake like road, was 9.5km and dropped 2200ft to the coast .
Just before beginning our descent to Sa Colobra I looked at Judith, who was looking somewhat anxious and I offered her a way out by asking if she’d like to wait at the top for us to go down and return. Her reply typified the spirit of the group “get lost” she said “I’m going to enjoy the razz down even if I’ve gotta walk all the way back up”!!
We all whizzed (or razzed as Judith would have it!) down enjoying the speed and arriving at the bottom after what seemed like an age of descending. As we congregated at the bottom we looked at each other with that “what the hell have we done” look on our faces in the knowledge that there was only one way out of this place – and that was UP!!!
After some serious carbo loading (I’m sure Dave had a pint!!) we set off at exactly the wrong time of the day!! The roads had gone eerily quiet as the sensible cyclists were having a siesta whilst us Brits decided to torture ourselves back up 9.5km and 2200ft in what was like a furnace, blistering heat and not a breath of wind!
Martin Steer went off like Alberto Contador being chased by the drug control and wasn’t seen until the top! Others went up at a more leisurely pace trying not to overheat or blow up! It was certainly an epic climb and one which gave those that hadn’t done anything like it before both a sense of elation and the realisation that they could do more than they originally believed. Finally we all cruised 14km downhill to Port Pollensa with that lovely serene feeling of contentment.
Martin Steer liked it so much he went back the next day and did it all over again – on his own much to his disgust at me chickening out at the 11th hour – sorry Martin.
Another highlight was a “very” relaxed lunch in a place called Petra, a small town out in the flatlands. The town square was completely packed out with bikes and every café was buzzing with cyclists. Our lunch turned out to be a little longer than bargained for at 1½ hrs, but what the hell, we were on holiday, it was a gloriously hot day and what better way to pass a couple of hours than watch good looking young girls (and guys) in Lycra whilst sipping cold drinks. Dave Smith particularly enjoyed this lunch!!
On our final day we decided to do a shorter ride but one that offered some spectacular scenery and interesting roads. It was the road out to the lighthouse at Cap de Formentor and at only a 40km ride it didn’t disappoint. The road was one of the most interesting I’ve ridden on, in that although you knew generally the direction you were going the road twisted and turned this way and that way, doubling back on itself, rounding bluffs with vertical cliffs dropping straight into the sea 1000ft below and even going through a tunnel. Amazing route and as you can imagine packed with cyclists.
So the six days of cycling came to an end far too quickly for most. The weather had been perfect all week and contributed to making the whole trip one of the best Majorcan holidays I’ve had.
The final meal included the usual after dinner skills of Glen who has a very relaxed and humorous way of delivering a speech – brilliant. I’d like to thank everyone for buying me a rather nice bottle of whiskey (all gone now) for going on holiday with them!
Those on the trip were Dave Smith, Justin Mackie, Julie Williams, Rosemary Williams, Glen Dermody, Clare Johnson, Rachel Jones, Graham Davies, Martin Steer, Isaac van den Hoff, Denise and Gareth Thomas, Carl Colwill, Judith and me.
I’ve organised this one for the last two years so the question is would I do it again if accepted by Spokes? Well given the way it all worked out and particularly the great atmosphere that existed amongst the group – yes, I would as it was a pleasure being around friends in such a beautiful setting having fun.
See you next year?
Bank Holiday Friday 27th May to 30th May ... A 3 day break in Lincolnshire, Saturday 40-50 mile ride, Sunday charity ride in aid of Breast Cancer. A great weekender, Ann and Paul raised more than £10,000 for the unit!!
Trans Cambrian Tour
June Sat 18th to Sat 25th June
a week of cycling in gorgeous Wales. An absolute EPIC week
Words and pictures by Leader Martin Pingel
"A wonderful trip, superb organisation, breathtaking routes (in more ways than one!) the views were more than worth every aching muscle and of course as always great company with days full of fun and laughter. Roger's fab support made the journey easily possible by bike and added a very appreciated touch of luxury. One of the best spokes-ctc trips ever".
"We met a great guy called Alex Bowling along the way.. a Canadian who has decided to travel the world by bike, he is keeping a blog in which we feature with some photos as well.... can recommend it as a good read, he really has as Martin Steer says a great turn of phrase..."
Tour of North Somerset - Weston Super Mare to Exeter.
July weekender (22nd -24th)Two day rides. Saturday 60 miles. Sunday 35 miles. A great time was had by all, fab company, weather and scenery!
Builth Wells August weekender
(Friday the 19th August to Sunday 21st) ... Fabulous weekend of great cycling around the Elan Valley and its beautiful dams and reservoirs. Plus a Tour d'Hay-on-Wye. All finished of with a BBQ at Juls. Great time was had by all :o).
Thurs 8th -> 15th September ... a guided week in beautiful Bulgaria.
This was a great success and will hopefully be repeated! Pictures here.
Words up by Glen
Day 1 - Sofia Airport to Pernic
Distance Cycled - 0Km
Hotel Struma - Twin room £32; Triple room £36
Large Beer - 95p
After an early morning flight from Heathrow we arrived at Sofia Airport at 13:30; 11:30 British time. There were five of us; Justin, Clare, Rosemary, Sue and myself. As we stepped out into the arrivals lounge, Borislav, or Bob as he preferred to be called, was there to greet us. For this trip he was to be our host, tour leader, guide, interpreter, teacher and advisor on all things Bulgarian. Over the next week he would also become a good friend to us all. He introduced us to Slav, the son of his girlfriend, who was to travel with us on our journey.
We stepped out of the terminal to be greeted by brilliant sunshine and 26 degree heat. After a quick stop to shed several layers of clothing, we proceeded to the car park and our transfer to Bob’s home town, Pernic, about 25Km south west of Sofia. Bob had hired another driver for the transfer and we all piled into the two cars.
After about 30 minutes we arrived outside the Hotel Struma, which was to be our home for the night. After quickly shedding the bags and another layer of clothes, we were taken to the bank to change money. We were given 2.16 lev to the pound, a lot higher than the 2 to 2.08 lev that was available back in Britain. From there it was a short walk back to Bob’s apartment where we were introduced to Ilke, Slav’s mother. She had prepared a fine spread of food for us with biscuits, cakes and fruit, and a variety of fruit juices to wash it all down. Within two hours of landing in a country for the first time, we had been invited into somebody’s home and given a meal. I felt extremely privileged and began to realise how special this trip might be.
As we ate, Bob produced a detailed map and took us through the geography of Bulgaria and his proposals for our trip. With the route agreed we were then presented with gifts by our hosts. We each received a small decorated religious tapestry, symbols from their Orthodox Church, and a pretty wooden phial of rose oil. Then we were introduced to our bikes for the week. They were big heavy mountain bikes with 2 inch knobbly tyres. Not the smoothest bikes to ride but, as we were to discover, perfect for the journey ahead. After a quick half hour fitting and adjusting saddles, pedals, bar-ends, etc. we were all set for whatever tomorrow would bring.
Conversation had strayed onto the Bulgarian national drink, rakya, a fruit based spirit that is about 40-50% proof. Bob explained that it had rather a rough taste and that he could only drink it with salad. Before we knew it we were back at the dining table with beautiful salads, bowls of yoghurt and large tumblers of rakya in front of us. Rosemary and I gave up after one glass but Clare and Justin took to it and not only kept up with Bob but began to outpace him. Sue decided that she would persevere with it until the bottle was finished. A policy doomed to failure as she didn’t realise that Bob was regularly topping up the bottle from a plastic container that he kept in the fridge. We began to talk about music and Bob regaled us with stories about how they managed to listen to Western music back in the days of communism. His favourites were The Beatles and King Crimson. Before long Bob’s guitar was produced and a Beatles sing along had begun.
Around nine o’clock we decided that it was time to head back and Bob escorted us to our hotel. We made our way to the hotel bar, which had a large outdoor area overlooking the main square. We settled down in some nice white armchairs and talked animatedly about the day. We touched on the upcoming trip but soon realised that we didn’t even have a clue what breakfast would be like, let alone the next seven days.
It was time for bed and I settled the bill, nine large beers and a coke for £10, with tip. It was our first indication of how inexpensive things would be.
Day 2 - Pernic to Varvara
Distance Cycled - 74Km
Hotel Struma - Twin lodge £25; Triple lodge £30
Large Beer - 80p
Breakfast that morning was quite a mixture. There was a large menu to order from. I went for ham omelette, toast, juice and coffee. Others had boiled eggs, frankfurters, honey, jams and cheese with their toast. Bob arrived just after eight. The bikes had already been loaded onto the back of a lorry. The luggage was put on with the bikes and I set off with Bob, Ilke and Slav in the car, while the other four travelled with the lorry driver in his cab.
The plan was to drive through Sofia and then head east. We were to be dropped at the top of a hill and that day head towards the base of the Rhodopes Mountains. The following four days would be spent touring these mountains before cycling down to the town of Pasadjic on day 7. This was where Ilke lived, and the idea was that we spend the last night here before catching the train back to Sofia and the airport.
The trip went well until we reached Sofia. The main “motorway” coming into the city from the west was getting a major upgrade. This was normally not too much of a problem as the traffic dropped onto the old road that ran parallel. However, on this morning they had temporarily closed a section of the old road as well, which pushed all the traffic heading into the city onto minor streets. Having had their journey disrupted in this manner, most drivers felt entitled to use both lanes of these minor streets. This helped keep the traffic moving slowly for a while. Unfortunately, this limited success was nullified whenever we encountered a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Then the principle of “three into two won’t go” was conclusively proved.
Sometime after eleven we had reached our starting point, the bikes had been unloaded, the sun cream had been liberally applied, the luggage had been transferred to the car and we had waved goodbye to the driver of the lorry. We were finally ready for “Le Grand Depart” as they call it on the Tour de France. This turned out to be a freewheel down the hill for less than a kilometre until we found a shop. None of us had any water. I bought a 6 litre container and everyone was supplied.
Very soon we came across a stretch of road which explained why we were on mountain bikes. It was a stretch of around five kilometres where there regularly appeared to be more potholes than road. Although you needed to be careful it did have the advantage of greatly reducing the number of cars using the road.
On we went. Bob said that we would be travelling downhill for most of the day and so it proved. We reached our lunch stop around one. It was a pleasant cafe where we sat in the shade of a large tree near a fountain. Shortly after two we were back on the road. We travelled on through Kostenec and Belovo. Bob referred to Belovo as “toilet paper town”. In all Bob’s travels it was the only place he had come across where they had stalls on the side of the road just selling toilet rolls.
We reached our destination, Varvara, sometime after four. This easy cycling day was a perfect introduction as it allowed everyone a chance to get used to their new bikes and to the heat and humidity. Varvara turned out to be a town that had been built up around some hot mineral springs. Our hotel was a holiday resort with a lot of individual lodges arranged around a number of outdoor pools. After parking the bikes in the front gardens of our lodges and dumping the luggage in the rooms, we ignored the main pool and settled for a smaller, less busy pool that was filled directly from the hot springs. The water was a glorious 26 degrees. It was a tough decision as to whether the pool or a cold beer should come first. For most of the British the beer won and we found some shade and relaxed. Bulgarian beer is lager based and, to me, was much the same as lager you would find anywhere around the Mediterranean. However, it is amazing how much sweeter it seems to taste when you know you are only paying between 65p to 90p for a large one.
After the beer it was all in the pool for a refreshing dip. The water was the temperature of a perfect bath and nobody seemed in any hurry to leave. As I lay in the warm water watching the evening sun light up the trees on the nearby mountain, I reflected on how the day had gone. Thirty-odd miles of downhill cycling in 80+ degree heat. It doesn’t get much better than that. A lovely ride with this idyllic location at the end of it. Eventually, I reluctantly left the pool as I could hear my second beer calling to me from the shaded table in the corner.
That night Bob left in the car with Ilke and Slav. They were staying at Ilke’s apartment, about 10k away in Pasadjic. It was the only night that they were to leave us on our own and we soon realised how much trouble we would be in without them. Trying to order food when you can’t speak a word of Bulgarian and the staff can’t speak a word of English is a problem. Some people went with something off the menu where they recognised the odd word. I took the approach of pointing at a picture and trusting to what turned up. I was hoping for fish but would have been happy with pork or chicken. In the end I was given deep fried cheese, which was a bit of a surprise. Justin decided that he would ignore the menu and try to order something that he’d seen someone else eating. Watching him try to mime that he wanted fish confused me; let alone the Bulgarian waitress.
Anyway, the food was washed down with enough beer, wine and rakya that it didn’t seem to make much difference. Most things got eaten apart from Justin’s fish. The waitress made several attempts to remove the dish from in front of him, at which point Justin would just smile and nod his head. Unfortunately, Bulgaria is one of those countries where nodding your head means no and shaking your head means yes.Two hours later the dish was still sat on the table with the locals wondering what was the fascination that the British had with cold fish.
The other problem we had was the bill. Although every item was individually itemised, we didn’t know what anything was called and it was all written in a script that we couldn’t read. We decide, there and then, that all bills would have to be split five ways. Everyone left the restaurant in high spirits and, after a quick detour to the girls’ lodge to see their bath, which could literally hold a football team; we all went off to bed.