I have not lost a bet, and I am not trying to send a message or support a movement, I simply felt like trying something new out, so I (with some practical help from Clio) coloured my hair purple. If there is anything I would like to say is this: looks do not matter. Not hair colours, nor skin colours. I am still the same person, nothing has changed, but my hair colour. And it will probably change in the future too ;)
Four years after crossing the Pyrenees with Willem from East to West (see the relevant posts here), I am going to revisit the region, and bike from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea with a colleague (Stef). After a few months of low activity levels and motivation, I finally got back into the sport around the Christmas holidays, and since then I have been commuting by bike again (I love my Brompton), and I have been doing some proper training both inside (Zwift training plan) and outside (when the weather permits, and lately it has been really wet and windy, so less often than I would like to). Of course I needed a proper goal too, because one of the reasons I had lost my motivation to ride last year was the apparent pointlessness of my training, so I definitely wanted to change that. And since I don’t like races and big busy events, what better is there to do than another self supported ride across the Pyrenees!
My planning technique has not really changed since 2016, I still used Strava (even though I had a look at Komoot too, but it had difficulties handling very long routes) and Google Street View to draw up the initial draft, then the availability of hotels set the final stage starts and finishes. I originally wanted to start from San Sebastián, but in the last minute it turned out that the one way extra fee for renting a car in France and dropping it off in Spain (that we need for the drive back to the start on the last day) would have been more than 2000 EUR, so at the end I had to settle with starting in Biarritz (where we finished four years ago).
We have already booked everything (hotels, rental car from Perpignan to Biarritz, long-term parking in Biarritz), so now we just need to train. Being in a good shape will be definitely necessary, because while this time we will have a rest day in the middle, there will be much more climbing than the last time… The final route can be seen below.
It is a total of 993 km, and 25601 metres of elevation gain over 32 (+1) cols (excluding the rest day). An overview of the elevation profile of the whole route can be seen below. (The climb categories were calculated following the discussion presented here.)
Now here is a detailed overview of the planned stages with distances, elevation gains, maps, profiles, and a list of cols for each day:
- June 10:
Drive to Biarritz.
- June 11:
On the morning we drive to the airport, where we have long-term parking booked, and start from there.
Stage 1) Biarritz – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port: 125 km | 2498 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Puerto de Otxondo [570 m] Cat 2 (8.2 km @ 5.7%)
– Puerto de Artesiaga [984 m] Cat 2 (12.8 km @ 5.7%)
– Collado de Urkiaga [915 m] Cat 4 (6.9 km @ 3.2%)
- June 12:
Stage 2) Saint-Jean Pied-de-Port – Anso: 108 km | 3429 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Col de Burdincurutcheta [1135 m] Cat 1 (9.0 km @ 8.8%)
– Col de Bagargi [1327 m] Cat 3 (6.5 km @ 4.9%)
– Port de Larrau [1578 m] HC (14.3 km @ 7.6%)
– Puerto de Laza [1129 m] Cat 3 (3.4 km @ 6.1%)
– Puerto de Matamachos [1148 m] Cat 2 (4.6 km @ 6.7%)
- June 13:
Stage 3) Anso – Oloron-Sainte-Marie: 104 km | 2158 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Alto de Zuriza [1290 m] Cat 3 (13.8 km @ 3.2%)
– Col de la Pierre St Martin [1766 m] Cat 1 (14.3 km @ 5.3%)
– Col de la Hourcère [1440 m] Cat 3 (4.8 km @ 4.5%)
– Col de Bugalaran [498 m] Cat 3 (3.3 km @ 6.9%)
- June 14:
Stage 4) Oloron-Sainte-Marie – Luz-Saint-Sauveur: 112 km | 3275 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Col de Marie Blanque [1035 m] Cat 1 (9.1 km @ 7.8%)
– Col d’Aubisque [1709 m] HC (17.0 km @ 7.0%)
– Col du Soulor [1474 m] Cat 3 (1.9 km @ 5.0%)
– Col des Bordères [1156 m] Cat 2 (4.2 km @ 6.9%)
- June 15:
Stage 5) Luz-Saint-Sauveur – Bagnères-de-Luchon ♛: 114 km | 3874 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Col du Tourmalet [2115 m] HC (19.0 km @ 7.4%)
– Hourquette d’Ancizan [1564 m] Cat 2 (16.6 km @ 4.3% – including a short descent)
– Col de Val Louron-Azet [1580 m] Cat 1 (10.7 km @ 7.3%)
– Montée de Peyragudes [1645 m] Cat 1 (9.6 km @ 7.3%)
(- Col de Peyresourde [1569 m] practically in the descent)
- June 16:
Rest day: we will probably still bike, something short and flat, to keep the blood flowing and to get the total distance beyond the thousand kilometre mark ;) But the main plan is mostly staying horizontal, and eating as much as possible.
- June 17:
Stage 6) Bagnères-de-Luchon – Castillon-en-Couserans: 100 km | 2775 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Port de Balès [1755 m] Cat 1 (18.8 km @ 5.9%)
– Col de Menté [1349 m] HC (9.3 km @ 9.0%)
– Col de Portet d’Aspet [1069 m] Cat 1 (4.3 km @ 9.5%)
- June 18:
Stage 7) Castillon-en-Couserans – Ax-les-Thermes: 137 km | 3667 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Col de la Core [1395 m] Cat 1 (14.2 km @ 5.8%)
– Col de Latrape [1110 m] Cat 2 (5.8 km @ 7.4%)
– Col d’Agnes [1570 m] Cat 1 (10.3 km @ 8.0%)
– Port de Lers [1517 m] Cat 3 (4.7 km @ 5.2%)
– Pas de Souloumbrie [911 m] Cat 3 (6.3 km @ 5.5%)
- June 19:
Stage 8) Ax-les-Thermes – Prades: 102 km | 2717 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Col de Pailheres [2001 m] HC (17.1 km @ 6.8%)
– Col des Aychides [1008 m] Cat 3 (6.3 km @ 4.1%)
– Col de Jau [1506 m] Cat 1 (17.9 km @ 5.8%)
- June 20:
Stage 9) Prades – Perpignan: 91 km | 1208 m+ (Map / Profile)
– Col de Palomère [1036 m] Cat 2 (24.4 km @ 3.2% – including a short descent)
Pick up the rental car in Perpignan and drive to Biarritz, where we stay for the night.
- June 21:
Last month I had the first two flights of my PPL training at Charleroi (EBCI). I was supposed to have a third one too, but that was unfortunately cancelled due to Belgium being under a think layer of fog for almost a week… Currently I have three more flights booked for February, but of course winter weather can often be unsuitable for VFR (flying by visual flight rules), so having just two of these go through would probably be a big success already. I hope during the summer it will be easier to book lessons (with longer days, better instructor availability, and better weather chances).
Before the first flight I still had to buy some basic equipment, such as a headset, checklists, a VFR map of Belgium, and a kneeboard (and later I still got a nicer headset case, a fuel tester, a plotter, an E6-B flight computer, and a Leatherman multitool to complete my flight bag). And of course as a data-geek I also got a flight-planner/tracker app for my iPhone (SkyDemon) so I have a log of all my future flights at the same place.
Even though the first flight itself was more of a familiarisation flight (procedures, checklists, all the pre-flight paperwork, primary and secondary effects of the controls, important visual navigation points around Charleroi, straight and level flight, use of the trim), I went very well prepared (I studied all the relevant theory modules), so we did some basic manoeuvres too (a few turns, nothing special), and I had no problem maintaining course and altitude. Of course the landing, take-off, and radio communication was done by my instructor, as a demonstration.
I fly a Sonaca 200, a low-wing cantilever monoplane made from aluminium alloy (in Belgium). It has an enclosed cabin with two side-by-side seats, it is powered by a 115 hp Rotax 914 engine (a turbo-charged, four-stroke, four-cylinder, horizontally opposed aircraft engine with air-cooled cylinders and water-cooled cylinder heads), and has a fixed tricycle landing gear. It has a propeller made out of three composite blades and a cruise speed of 213 km/h. Air Academy New CAG has currently three of them (with one more coming soon), OO-NCA, OO-NCB, and OO-NCC. They have an analogue instrument panel except for the digital engine monitoring system (EMS) display. All in all a very basic, but reliable, safe, and comfortable general aviation (training) plane.
After the first flight I have made a Google Sheet for the weight and balance calculations, so I just need to pick the aircraft, fill in the fuel, passenger and luggage weights, and I get all the values (plus load limit checks) that need to be filled into the pre-flight documents. (In the example below input fields are marked with a blue background, there is a red warning that the take-off mass and moment combination would be outside of the safety limits – in this case the centre of gravity would be just a bit too forward and moving the luggage to the rear bag area would solve the issue -, and a green confirmation that the baggage is within the limits.) Nice and convenient. I also added each aircraft to the database of SkyDemon, with not only weight and balance, but proper flight performance data too, so I could also use that for the weight and balance calculations and flight planning in the future (when we get to the point of cross-country and navigation flights).
The second flight (see log on the map below) was much more proactive, I did the full pre-flight checklist (including external checks), taxiing (movement on the ground), and even the take-off by myself. Then I did again some straight and level flying out of the control zone, followed by climbing and descending (attitude-power-trim and power-attitude-trim procedure) sandwiched between various turn exercises. The landing was still 50% demonstration, but my instructor said that next time I would have full control, since I am doing so well :)
I wanted to install a GoPro for the third flight, but winter got in the way, so this will have to wait, but soon I will give some insight to the cockpit too. Looking forward to my next flights!
After being without a commuter bicycle for a while, and taking only the train to work for months (something I only did in bad weather before), I started to feel the negative effects of not moving much, or rather not moving anything at all… To stop going down the slippery slope of completely getting out of shape (as this was still before starting a new 12 week training plan on Zwift on the 2nd of January to build my form back up for the new season) it was time to get a new bike, and for the first time since moving to Belgium, a normal everyday bike.
I always played with the idea of getting a Brompton – a famous British folding bicycle, made in London -, but I did not need it before, and I was not so sure about how practical such a bike would be for my normal commute anyway. Actually I do not need a folding bike at all (since I am not taking the bike on the train or the subway often), but I always found the idea and the lifestyle – or rather the feeling – surrounding the Brompton bicycles very attractive (except for the long commutes). I went to the local bike shop (where I had the wheels built for my steel bike a year earlier) after work during the last week before Christmas, to test ride the different models, and I immediately fell in love with one of the special edition models, so I went back the following day and simply bought it. It was more expensive than a simple commuter, but I will enjoy using it, so it does not matter.
It is a really well thought through construction, and it is surprisingly fun to ride, being very agile and accelerating very quickly. I bought the 2020 Black Edition (black instead of silver coloured parts) M6R (medium type handlebar, 6 speeds, with a rear rack) Raw Lacquer (the frame colour, extremely pretty), with hub dynamo powered lights. I also got omnium insurance and a strong Abus lock (Bordo Granit X-Plus 6500) that is mounted relatively neatly on the frame, just to be safe (even though I am not planning on leaving the bike unattended too often, after all a folding bike can be neatly stored inside too at most places).
After the first two weeks of commuting with the bike I can report that I am extremely happy with it, and I am very glad that I made the purchase! Now I can start training for the folding world record ;)
In November I finally visited my brother in Dubai (he is a steward at Emirates already for more than three years), making use of the cheap tickets he can get his family members. Since these are standby tickets there was a bit of uncertainty on the way there, as the plane was almost fully booked, and I only got a seat when I was already at the gate. We left Brussels behind at 20:15 and – after passing a few time zones and not being able to sleep more than a half hour – landed around 5:40 in Dubai… This raised the difficulty level for the following sightseeing considerably, but I guess I am not really allowed to complain. During the next 54 hours we saw a lot (plus ate a lot, and took a few dozen taxis). On the first day we started by taking one of the small boats across the Dubai Creek, then walked through the still closed Bur Dubai Souk Market (my brother did not calculate in to his plans that we would be here around seven in the morning…) and an old-looking (but reconstructed) part of the city, then had breakfast at the Arabian Tea House (very good tea with milk, and delicious thin breads with honey, nuts, and humus). A short taxi ride took us to the La Mer area (a new beach and promenade with bars and restaurants, etc., and burning sunshine), then another one to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which is a mix between a traditional market and a more modern mall. From here there were also some views towards the famous Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel (the one shaped like a big sail over the sea) – but there was no way to get much closer without being filthy rich…
In general this was a nice area for photography, with more classical looking buildings instead of the typical skyscrapers that made the skyline of Dubai so famous. Our next five minute taxi ride took us to the Mall of the Emirates, not the largest shopping centre, but the one that looked the most fancy to me (with shops of all the luxury brands and shiny materials covering the floors and walls everywhere, plus trees inside the Apple Store, etc.). We came here mostly to cool down (as in the meantime the temperature reached – a very normal – 30°C) and not to shop, but it was impressive nevertheless. On the taxi ride back to my brother’s place we drove along the main road (a 10-12 lane wide highway), passing by more skyscrapers than you could imagine, and for the first time we got a clear view towards the tallest building of the world. After a small nap, we went to Downtown Dubai – the area around the Burj Khalifa.
We had Asian food for dinner after taking pictures while walking from the Burj Plaza to the new Opera, then we watched the fountain and light show (with probably another ten thousand bystanders). I knew it would be impressive, but it was twice as grand as expected; I got goosebumps multiple times, and I am not very easily amazed in general. Before going to sleep we still played a bit on the Playstation.
On the next morning we started the day with renting a car from the local car-sharing fleet, and driving across the city. After a quick sandwich from the supermarket (in a very European looking area of the city), we took an early speedboat tour across the Dubai Marina. They took us up to the top of the famous Palm Jumeirah, turning back towards the harbour in front of the Atlantis (hotel). The high-speed section of the tour was quite cool, but to me the most impressive sight from the water was the massive silhouette of the under construction The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences from the entrance of the marina – it looked like a futuristic construction project hidden slightly in the haze, maybe a space station (or the machine from Contact), from a big budget Hollywood movie. Afterwards we had lunch at The Acai Spot, and a drink on the top of the Marriott Hotel (for the panorama to the palm and the skydivers). Then we (with my brother at the wheel) drove to Abu Dhabi, to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is an amazing building, really great for photography – if you like architecture. Luckily the large open courtyard in the middle is closed off from visitors, which makes it easy to take photos without all the tourists in the frame.
We stayed here almost until sunset, before driving back to Dubai (which was not without a bit of excitement as we could only refuel the car for free in Dubai and not in Abu Dhabi, and the border between the two emirates was quite close to the limit of our remaining driving range – but we made it). For dinner we went to the Festival City Mall, but we were both pretty tired, so we did not stay too long afterwards…
The last morning was relatively cold (in the low twenties) and cloudy, which made wearing long trousers much more bearable (I had shorts for the previous days – except for the mosque -, but they would have been too cold for the plane, and especially for getting home in Belgium…). We had breakfast in The Sum of Us (a very European coffee/bagel/etc. place), then we took the metro to the Emirates Group Headquarters to have a quick look at the planes from the terrace, before dropping me off at the airport itself. While waiting at the gate, a thunderstorm flooded the aprons temporarily, causing slight delays. On the flight home I watched three movies then the first half of Liverpool beating Manchester City (live TV on the plane is definitely something I had not experienced before). Of course I got a cold from the strong air-conditioning, but overall it was a really nice trip, I am glad I finally managed to do it.
Between Christmas and New Year I spent a few days in Budapest (with Clio, but staying not only with my parents, but my brother and grandmother too), where I ate way too many cakes and cookies, following the well established Hungarian holiday season tradition of “gaining a few kilograms at your parents’ place”. The new raspberry flavoured kürtőskalács definitely got my seal of approval.
Finally, it is worth a mention that Filou has been with us for two years now, and I still think that adopting him (an adult cat) was a great decision, and I love how he comes to lie against me on the couch every evening, putting his head into my palm and purring. He became much more vocal (and clingy) in the second year, now he dares to speak out if he wants something, which is usually me sitting in the couch with him (when I come home from work, and later in the evening should I be somewhere else in the apartment). He is still not a hero, a new box or the garbage bag still makes him suspicion/afraid, but he is still very well behaved, he has not destroyed anything, he does not go to places where he is not allowed (countertop, table, Christmas tree), and he listens to us in general. He is still very lazy, and even when he wants to play, he is sometimes lazy to actually do so – so I end up moving more while trying to make him active than he does. Of course there is cat fur everywhere, but you accept that when deciding on having a cat, so we use the Dyson on a daily (hourly) basis. He is the cutest ball of fluff for sure.