Saturday, 23 June 2012

LOOSE IN TOULOUSE - Smiddy crew bond

Getting to London
When I last wrote it was from the comfort of the vast Singapore international airport, where seriously, you could -if you really wanted to- walk a marathon just taking in all the shops and restaurants. All 13 riders boarded our flight to London and after a long 13 hours of restless sleep, mind-numbing movies and bland airline food, all were relieved to see the inside of the Heathrow international airport. It is now 7am on a wet, cold, dreary and depressingly grey English morning. We have just spent a good half hour in transit to get to our next flight bound for Toulouse in the South of France. As I write this we are being told by the flight attendants to have our seat belts done up low and tight, and once again I ponder why it is low and tight and not tight and low? Hmmmmm, may have to write to Qantas about that one? Anyway I am once again sitting next to my flight partners in Katrina Cousins and Billy Elliot, also known as Kat Panda and Billy the Kid. I just got Billy into trouble as I confessed to the flight attendant that he had indeed not read his safety card! Naughty Billy.

Get us out of England!
What a difference a 90min flight can make! We are now in the South of France and my smile could not be broader. The sky is a dazzling blue, the temperature is a mild 20 degrees, the smell of fresh baguette's and chocolate croissants is in the air, and the ladies of France are just walking around as if it is perfectly normal to be so incredibly beautiful! Not that I noticed...It was pointed out to me by the other lads in the group of course! So now that we are in Toulouse we have 20 hours to kill. Our overnight stay here is in a comfortable motel and all is good bar the fact that 3 of the lads bikes failed to arrive. For those riders who saw their bikes come out on the over-size conveyer belt it was a feeling of relief. For Billy, Peter and Phil the feeling was somewhat how you feel during a big night when you know you are about to chuck!

Pyrenees' here we come
Time wise it is now the next day and we are on our way to our Farmhouse stay in the small country village called Escala, which is based at the foothills of the French Pyrenees' and will be our base for the next week. Our 3 tour operators from the UK are Graham, Neil and Graham, we have nicknamed Neil, 'Graham' just to make life easier. The boys run a company called Embrace Sports and run tours to all the major mountain chains throughout Europe.

But what happened yesterday in Toulouse?
Yesterday was a cracker of a day; once we dropped all our gear at the hotel and phone calls were placed to locate missing bikes, we all cleaned up and made our way into the centre of town. A bar was located in a quaint french style square that served food and the 13 strong group settled in for an afternoon of team bonding, brought on by an ale or two! Collectively the group sitting before me have raised in excess of $110,000. An amazing total for just 13 fundraisers! A deep seated appreciation settled over me as I took in the general happiness of the group. These guys and girls had worked their butts off over the past 10 months to not only train for this event, but to juggle work and family and fund raising commitments was a monumental achievement. They were in the process of letting their hair down and celebrating the start of a trip that have duly earned - I could not have been happier for them.

It was time for the group to split, but not before making the owners of that bar extremely happy, thanks to paying the bill of $500 Euro for the amount of water that we consumed! For my group of Youngy, Johnny, Jimmy, Anna and Katrina, a leisurely walk through the maze of architecturally delightfully adventurous streets was the order of the day. Another restaurant was located that included beautiful views of the inner city canals and we set up our second nest of the day for dinner before heading back to the hotel. The other riders enjoyed their own tour of the city although in a slightly different fashion that involved a few more waters at various bars...

Still one bike down!
The missing bikes have now been reunited with their owners bar one; Peter DeAngelis is still without his bike and the airlines are clueless at this point in time as to where it could be. I feel for Pete but I also admire the fact that he is not devastated by it and is still his positive happy self. I think the boys are trying to secure a loaner bike for me so that he can be a starter for tomorrow's ride. On our way to this farmhouse we stopped at a Decathlon store (think huge Anaconda store but bigger) and the group were let loose for an hour to do some shopping. While there Jimmy purchased a small toddlers tricycle and presented it to Peter to use as his back up bike. Pete took the practical joke in the nature it was intended and we all had a good laugh.

Fancy a run Sharky?
Kat Panda and Bad Boy suggested a run this morning, Anna was meant to join us at 7am but gave us the flick when she woke early and left at 6am. She possible knew from reputation that anyone that trains with me at the Triads will at some point get lost. Our 50 minute run today ended up being a very enjoyable adventurous 100 minutes! At 60 minutes the question was asked are you hungry? All agreed that they were not. 10 minutes later we were practically salivating at the thought of a French pattiserie. On locating home 'Bad' shouted us a chocolate crossaint and a water and we were all indeed very happy again!

Our home away from home
The farmhouse is owned by one of the Graham's, who resides in England and only visits when the house is being used by tour groups or on holidays. Graham helps out with these bike tours as the driver and is a very friendly English chap and a delightful host. The 1803 2 story built farmhouse he purchased 20 years ago and is gorgeous in its 200 year old rustic fashion, with solid stone walls and timber windows and a coolness to the place once inside that would be a treat on those hot summer days. Summer here is just 3 weeks old and the cruel hot days are yet to arise, but they are coming, and more than likely they will hit half way through our epic tour in a few days time. For now we are calmed by the fact that the climbing may be slightly easier for the first couple of days thanks to the ambient temperatures.

Tomorrow we start the first leg of the journey and I will be sure to update you with our first day in the high mountains.




  1. Sounds like a great trip already. ANy pics of farmhouse? Sounds fab. Looking forward to reading bout the mountain days. All the best.

  2. Very enjoyable read Sharky! Sounds like you guys and gals are having a blast, in no small part due to the friendly and cheeky group you have there! Look out for Youngy he's trouble ;P