Wednesday, 4 July 2012


What happens to the crew once the Smiddy tour finishes?
Well after my last blog on June 28 and the end of the Smiddy Pyrenees' trip, all the riders went their own separate ways. The DeAngelis Brothers and Michael changed their plans for a quick trip over to Italy and Rome for a few days before returning home. Adam was off to see the opening prologue of the Tour De France. Rowan had a 30 hour flight in front of him to return home. Neil and Graeme were back to cloudy England. Anna and Jimmy were off to climb Alp De'Huez and catch a couple of stages of the tour. Billy had a date with his best mate Jade in London. Jade has done the Smiddy Challenge up to Townsville and is an Aussie living in London for a couple of years. David was heading for Paris, where I read today, (July 3) on Facebook, that he got robbed, which I'm sure was quite upsetting. Johnny Bad Boy was hanging around in France until he met up with his partner Cathy and they were then heading to England to visit Bad's Mother.

As for Katrina and I, we collected our hire car in Toulouse and then took 2 hours to do a 1 hour trip back to the Pyrenees thanks to my unbelievably bad navigational skills. I warned Katrina from the start that if you travel with the Shark you can't get stressed the many times I will get us lost. She has been wonderful in that regard, and thankfully so as in just 3 days I have been lost a couple of times, which I will get to later. Katrina commented today when I went to take the wrong exit to get out of the shopping centre to the car, "It amazes me Sharky that you are a tour leader for Smiddy!". I replied, "If not for Rowan then Smiddy would be renowned for the 'Tour of the Lost' rather than the success it shares today!

Our new Chalet in the Pyrenees
Anyway for the next week we are again staying in the Pyrenees', only this time in a different part, just as beautiful -if not more so- near a famous little town called Foix (pronounced fra). The tour has come through here on numerous occasions and it is a gorgeous medieval little town with a great castle and best of all, the yummiest bakery in the entire world! The small village that Katrina and I are staying in is called St Paul Jarnet. And thanks to a 20 year friendship with an Australian I met in England back in 1993, who has lived in London for the past 30 years and worked as a dentist, brought this beautiful Chalet 15 years ago and has been renovating it ever since. Russel and his wife Helen and their 2 kids Matty and Emily, use this place as their holiday home. It is a gorgeous 100 year old stone built 2 story Chalet. The walls are amazing in that they are half a metre thick of solid rock with mortar holding it all together. The windows are double glazing and thick shutters cover each and every window and door. Russel told us the winter just gone it got down as low as minus 20 and that is why the buildings are designed in this fashion to keep out the elements. Russel's Chalet sits at an altitude of 700 metres, so you can just imagine the extreme temperatures in the mountains that this home overlooks that are as high as 3000 metres. The views are stunning from here, the air is crisp and clear and we are indeed very lucky to being afforded the luxury of staying in such a place. We are very grateful to Russel and Helen and when we arrived Russel was here to let us in, having flown in from London to spend the weekend training for the long course world titles at the end of July. It was fantastic to catch up with my old mate and the next story I would like to share with you include some Russ type adventures. Very similiar to a Sharky adventure as you will see.

A very different ride up Col De Porte
In my last blog do you remember the Smiddy crew rode up their final Col for the trip and it was called Col De Porte? Well that was the planned route for our Sunday ride but in the reverse direction to what the Smiddy riders did. On waking at 7am the weather had turned nasty and it was blowing a gale and raining. So the ride was cancelled and more breakfast was devoured over a 2 hour period. Then at 10am Russ said the weather had cleared and would we like to go out for a short 80km ride? He said if we stay in the valleys and head for lower ground we should be right. Katrina and I were ready in a shot and keen to experience more of this wonderful country on a bike. So off we went, down through Foix and onto a series of quiet country roads that promised glimpses of the high mountains if they were not shrouded in thick fog. The valley roads we meandered through were equally as impressive and at one stage we went through this amazing natural cave tunnel that a road had been carved into. It was near pitch black inside but for the small directional lights that you could sight on to get you to the other side half a kilometre away. Beside the road was an underground lake that was 3 times as noisy due to the structure of the cave. I was beside myself with excitement and took video footage and photos using my iPhone.

Good bye Katrina, hello Col De Porte
60km's into the ride it was time for Katrina to head home, while Russ and I carried on. Russ sent Katrina the shortest route home, 30km's, so she would still have a good 90km's under her belt. Kat is doing Ironman Switzerland in Zurich in 13 days and she did not wish to over do it. I on the other hand only get to see Russ once a year, sometimes once every two years, so I needed to have a memorable -preferably painful- adventure every time that I saw him. I chipped away all morning at Russ as I knew we were still in the right vicinity to ride up Col De Porte. He kept saying that it gets pretty messy at that altitude in these sort of conditions. Not long after leaving Katrina it began to rain again. I said to Russ it was a passing shower, as if I had somehow become an expert on Pyrenee weather in the week that I had been here! Once we got past the point of no return I knew we were in for an unforgettable experience on this Col. First came the 22km gradual climb up to the small town of Masset. It was this section that the Smiddy riders had their Smiddy moment as we ride strongly together just a few days prior in 35 degree heat. What a contrast, it was now just hovering on 10 degrees and as long as you kept moving you could stay warm. Russ and I got into a good tempo and averaged 30km/h for this section. At Masset we stopped to chat to 4 French people (well Russ did, who speaks fluent French, I just nodded and smiled a lot) for just 5 minutes and in that time got cold. Then it was onto the 12km climb in proper up to the Col. After 2 days off the bike I felt fantastic and was climbing better than I did during the entire tour. Probably helped along by the fact that it was not 35 degrees!

The cold at the top and the pain of the descent
Russ and I crested the top together and where there was an amazing view just a few days ago, all that could be sighted was a tractor standing 20 metres away. We got a photo of the two of us standing in thick fog with the 1249 metre Col De Porte sign and pushed off before the deep cold set in. It was windy and 4 degrees at the top, we had both come unprepared with no winter riding gear except for a raincoat. 'Remember originally we were only doing a 80km valley ride.' Our hands were cold before even starting the descent. On the way down, road dangerously slippery wet, brakes that took 400 metres of application before the rims would dry enough to slow you down, thick fog limiting the amount of road seen in front, windchill down to zero, fingerless gloves, no arm or leg warmers, no beanie. It is without doubt the coldest I have ever been on a bike. The normal joyful descent was now one of sheer terror. Russ summed it up at the bottom when he replied to my question of; "how are your hands"? I kept having to look down to see what was making the bike slow down and was surprised to see they were my hands"! It was crazy, it was terrifying, it was the most painful cold experience of my life, but hell yes, it was an adventure and through chattering teeth we were in in awe that we got down in one piece!

Captured on video and the hilarious bakery stop
I got to the bottom of the descent a few minutes prior to Russ. We did a video at the top and again at the bottom. It was all smiles and laughter at the top, while the bottom was a different story. We were both so cold that Russ took us to a bakery where we ordered a pot of tea and the most calorie rich cake that they sold. It was a busy deli type bakery with plenty of seating inside and out. Because of the foul weather all were sitting inside and all were immensely entertained by two Aussies shaking in their boots. Without a word of a lie we were standing there ordering, dripping wet and shaking so hard from our legs up that it was comical. When the pots of tea arrived, just pouring the tea from pot to cup was hilarious as our hands were shaking so bad. Then out of the blue and with Russ being a dentist, and after trying unsuccessfully to pour a cup of tea without spilling any tea, he said; "next patient please." Just those 3 words had us in fits of laughter that had all the customers looking at us as if we had gone stark raving mad, and who could disagree, we were! I got what Russ meant, as in you need a steady hand and nerves of steel to work on people's teeth... It was one of those had to be there moments.

The 14km ride home and Katrina's cold story
After 15 minutes inside the bakery it was time to leave that warm ambiance and get back on our steads. We were both still shivering and rode as hard as possible for 4km's before we felt some warmth starting to seep back into our grateful extremities. The last 2.5km's up to Russ's Chalet is all uphill and has an average gradient of 10% but with a few pitches of 18%. We both loved it this time around as it warmed our bodies even more and on arriving home it was as if nothing other than a great 150km ride had taken place. Although I can attest the cold had indeed seeped into my bones as it took a long hot shower, eating for 2 hours and hiding up the blankets for half a night prior to feeling 100% again. So our 80km ride turned into 150km's with nearly 2000 metres of climbing involved. It was so cold that both Russ and I went through just 1 water bottle in that time, yet stopped 6 times to pee! It was indeed a ride that Russ and I will recall with vivid memories the next time I see him in a year or two. Katrina did not get off lightly as welll. On returning home we found out she had her own adventure on her way home as she punctured, taking 15 minutes to repair it in the pouring rain, cursing my name several times and finally getting home, only to take 10 minutes to work out the locking system and finally getting inside to warm her cold bones as well. All was forgiven when we arrived home a few hours later as she had made an extremely welcoming hot pot of soup, which sure went down a treat. Thanks heaps Kat.

I sure hope you enjoyed this blog, I will include in my next blog the story of the run Russ took me on the next day. A supposedly 2 hour trail run, where I turned around early due to being tired for some reason! Nearly 5 hours later I found my way home, but that is for another time...




  1. Great read Sharky. Glad the adventures are continuing. That change of scene at Col de Porte must have been amazing!

  2. Row man glad you enjoyed that blog, bloody cold weather sure sorted us both out. Hey mate have arranged to meet up with Phil Anderson and we are climbing Alp d'Huez with him on the rest day on July 10. Kat is beside herself with excitement. Take care old mate. Sharky