Swiss Trip to the South-East (Part 1)

For our first full day in the Engadin, we decided to walk from Maloja along the path which runs by the side of Lej da Segl or the Silsersee to the village of Sils Maria. Jude was keen to see what it looked like as Colletts Mountain Holidays have (or at least would have, had it not been for COVID-19) started running holidays there.

Quick aside here: I first met Jude while on a Colletts Mountain Holiday in the Italian Dolomites in 2004. Jude was the chalet host. The rest is history as they say… ūüíēūüėä

Anyway, even before we’d left our apartment, we’d noticed some people, running in pairs towards the lake. Only the day before, Jude had read about an event called the √∂till√∂, which required a team of 2 people to run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, etc. for a total of 45km. (39km of this is running and 6km swimming across the 2 lakes in the Engadin). One of the rules is that the 2 competitors should never be more than 10 metres apart, so they are tied together with a piece of rope. (The madness of the human race never ceases to amaze me!) On the plus side, if there is a plus side, they are allowed to use paddles on their hands and floats between and on their legs. (In the second picture below you can see the 2 competitors had them on their shins, but not everyone had them). Of course, these had to be carried during the run sections. All I can say is, it’s not an event you’ll catch me doing!

We stopped at the rather quaint village of Isola on the way for a coffee, where there’s a huge cascading waterfall. Sils Maria itself was quite charming, with restricted motorised transport from what we could see. It’s clearly a great base to explore some of the excellent walking routes and attractions in that area. (But it’ll never beat the Val d’H√©rens of course! ūüėČ)

We returned to Maloja via a small ferry boat, which criss-crosses the lake to pick up passengers. Apparently it’s the highest operating ferry in Europe, at an altitude of 1,797m or 5,896ft. Swiss facts – Jude has them all! (It’s no wonder I married her! ūüėć)

Trans-Swiss Mountain Bike Ride, July 2011, Part 1 of 2

When I first moved over to Switzerland in 2005, I thought I was reasonably fit and active. But I soon discovered that a lot of the people in the office were what some might consider to be absolutely bonkers. It seemed like everyone was either running or cycling or swimming or all three, you name it, someone was a keen whatever. And it wasn’t just a mere jog or a few lengths of the pool, they were fanatical. Triathlons and Ironman events were their ‘standard’ events.

It was hard not to get sucked into their enthusiasm. Every year there was a ‘Tour du Lac’ Cyclotour – a bike ride around not just any old lake, but Lac L√©man (or Lake Geneva if you like). It’s only 176km/110 miles! Though it’s not a ‘race’ as such, more of a challenge to yourself. “We’ll all go round together” they said and, after buying a very expensive road bike and a few training sessions, a group of about 12 of us set off hoping to break 6 hours. Needless to say I couldn’t keep up with the best of them (who did break 6 hours) and I finished in around 6 hours 40 mins.

A 9 stage Corporate ‘Gigathlon’ relay event – involving mountain biking, running up a mountain (not only to reach the snow, but through some of it too), cross country skiing, ski touring, running and mountain biking back down again, a swim in a lake, a 17km road bike ride and a 10km run – “Let’s form a team” and that was from just within our office. I was due to run the last 10k leg but, at the last minute, due our mountain runner not liking to run in snow (who does?!) I had to swap and run up and down the mountain. As I said, bonkers!

My boss at the time, Gerard, always took a week or so off work every year to do what was termed ‘The Trans-Alp’. It was legendary and involved mountain biking from A to B over passes as high as nearly 3,000m/9,840ft – not to mention haring back down again. Never having done any mountain biking, I resisted the temptation – until they mentioned going across Switzerland, from Davos to Ollon (near Montreux). “What a great way to see some of Switzerland” I thought to myself. And with 14 takers, which would be split into 4 groups (the Elite, 2 Medium level and a Beginner…) I was in. (Another expensive bike had to be purchased of course!)

Gerard decided to do it with his son, Noe, so the 2 of them and a not so fit, Pascal, formed the Beginners group and I was teamed up with the 2 organisers, Alistair and Joern. They were both experienced bikers, so I thought I’d drawn the short straw, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Indeed, the three weaker groups mostly stuck together and we just let the Elite group do some extra sections while the rest of us hitched a lift in the back-up minibus. ūüėä

As you will see from the pictures below*, it proved to be quite challenging – though more due to the weather. And if you think this looks tough – wait until you see Part 2 tomorrow… ūüėČ

*For the record and anyone interested in the detail of this crazy pursuit, these pictures cover Day 1 from Davos to Radons Savognin via the Scalettapass; Day 2 from Radons to Safien Platz via Pass da Schmorras and Day 3 from Safien Platz to the SAC Terri mountain hut via the Pass Diesrut.

In the first picture are (L to R) Pascal, Chicco, me, Martin, Gerard, Noe, Joern, Werner, Norbert, Guy, Alistair, Stevie, Nikolaus and Jan.

Camino de Santiago, Triacastela to Sarria (via Molino de Marzan Albergue)

I couldn’t spend a week staying on “the Camino” without walking some of it.¬† So, last week, I set off to walk from Arthur’s gallery, which is just beyond Triacastela (if you turn right there, rather than left to Samos) and about 130km from the finish in Santiago de Compostela.¬† My goal was to get to Sarria, where I would be picked up late in the afternoon, but I reached there at 11:30am.¬† So I carried on…

One of the big attractions of the Camino is that there are signposts at least every 500m (I’m told) and usually at any junction, so you don’t need to carry a map or be very good at navigation.¬† Also, I realised afterwards, there are no gates to open, or stiles to climb over, (on my section anyway), which makes for a slightly smoother journey.¬† Many people don’t even book their accommodation ahead, so that they are free to stop, or carry on, as the fancy takes them.¬† Though this does mean that there is a tendency for quite a few people to set off at the crack of dawn (which must be delightful for other guests or walkers staying in the same albergue or hostel – not to mention people trying to sleep below a gallery on the Camino).

Clearly there are other advantages too, like it’s a good walk with some nice scenery and you will get to meet, or pass, looooaaaads of people.¬† But that, for me, even though I consider myself a very sociable person, puts me off doing the whole thing.¬† (I also get quite competitive, as nobody walks passed me!)¬† ¬†There’s quite a lot of road, or next to road, sections too, though they are often fairly quiet back roads.

For info also, I noticed quite a lot of cyclists taking on the route and I saw some specific signs in the road, so there must be a cyclist’s variation.¬† This must get you from A to B somewhat quicker but, then, you may miss a lot (of the point) of the journey.¬† ¬†In addition there are a few alternative routes to Santiago de Compostela, like one along the north coast of Spain and another up through Portugal, which you might like to consider to be a little ‘different’.

Anyway, I managed another 8km (5 miles) beyond Sarria before I turned back, covering the same ground, which made my walk about 30km (18 miles) in total.¬† Though I have to say, just in case you¬†have a mind to¬†do it in reverse, it’s not as easy to navigate as you might think – given that the signs are geared towards pilgrims on the normal route.¬† (And I think you will be fed up of saying “Ola” or “Buen Camino” to thousands of people).

Grand Raid BCVS Mountain Bike Race, 2018

I mentioned in my previous post that I’d put my name forward to help out during the Grand Raid, which runs both from and through our village.¬† However, the organisers never got back to me on where they’d like me to be, so I presumed they had enough volunteers and I decided to do my own thing…

An ex-colleague and good friend of mine, Kevin, had successfully completed the ‘short course’ three years ago and he’d recently been in touch to say that this year he was doing the full distance, from Verbier.¬† I thought he and the event deserved my support, so at 7:15am yesterday morning, I duly set off along 2 different sections of the route, taking pictures as a I went.¬† Now, sporting events have never really been my forte when it comes to capturing the action, but I hope the pictures below convey both the beauty of the scenery as well as the agony and the ecstasy of some competitors.

While I was waiting for Kevin at La Vieille, I also bumped into another ex-colleague and friend, Jan, who was doing the 3/4 route from Nendaz.¬† He, I’m sure, will have revelled in the challenge and pain of the ascent over the Pas de Lona. ¬† Kevin, however, missed the cut off time by just 2 minutes and wasn’t allowed to continue. ¬† Unfortunately he broke his derailleur during the descent into Evol√®ne and had to wait 15 minutes while it was being repaired.

If there are any mountain bikers out there reading this, then I can only say that you will not find many more demanding or rewarding events than the Grand Raid.¬† Apart from a variety of distances, (choose your own personal challenge), they now even allow for Electric bike competitors on the two shorter routes.¬† Though I certainly wouldn’t want to push, carry or simply lug one of those heavy things over the Pas de Lona!

Walk to the Pas de Lona, Val d’H√©rens

I am very fortunate to be able to do quite a number of walks, some quite challenging,¬† from my front door.¬† One of those is to the Pas de Lona at 2,787m or 9,144ft.¬† It starts easy enough, along a track and then takes a path up to Volovron, before turning up through the woods to the alpage across to La Vieille.¬† It’s still a good walk to get there (and back of course).¬† But the real challenge starts when you set off to climb up to the col, where the path just seems to get steeper and steeper and your legs start to burn.¬† Once there you can go even higher to the Cabane Becs de Bosson (which many do, to rest for the night, as part of the Tour of the Val d’H√©rens) but, since I’d set off quite late and we had some visitors coming, I simply headed back home again.

Now, just imagine how the cyclists must feel having to do that climb pushing or carrying their bikes as part of the Grand Raid, which takes place on Saturday…¬† There are 4 distances to choose from, either starting in Verbier, Nendaz, H√©r√©mence or my village of Evol√®ne, but they all have to do that climb before descending (and climbing again briefly) to the finish in Grimentz.¬† I’ve put my name down to support the riders by handing out drinks and/or maybe giving directions, but I’m not sure where I’ll be stationed yet.¬† It could be in the village or on the mountain side somewhere, but wherever it is, I hope to bring you some pictures next week.¬† In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this walk…

Hadrian’s Wall Path (Day 3 of 4)

My mate Pete is a Master when it comes to organising our trips.  Everything was booked and in place by October last year, but then, in January, not one, but two of our B&Bs  cancelled (due to refurbishment of their bedrooms)!  There are not many places to stay on or near the route but, of course, Pete was up to the challenge and he promptly rearranged for us to stay at two different places.

The first was to stay in Greenhead rather than Haltwhistle.  This helped in a way, as we would have had to walk off the route to get to Haltwhistle, BUT it did mean that it would add another 2 or 3 miles to our, already long, third day, making it at least 20 miles long.  A quick look at the contours on the map told me that this was going to be a very up and down day and, with a 7kg (15.5 lb) pack on your back, it would easily be equivalent to doing a marathon (for which I was certainly not prepared!)

The second change was that the owner of our expected accommodation in the village of Wall offered to pick us up from there and drive us to (and back from) one of his other pubs in Newbrough, which was 5 miles away.¬† (Clearly we were not planning on walking that far off the route!)¬† Again this turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Red Lion was very comfortable, also had our, by now, favourite beer, called “Ale Caesar” and they served up the best food we tasted all week. ūüôā¬† Not only that but, Liam was suffering from a chest infection, so after reaching Housesteads (about 10 miles or half way in) he made the strategic decision to take the ‘short cut’ directly to Newbrough.¬† However, this still involved going to the top of what turned out to be the last hill at Sewingshields Crags and then walking 4 to 5 miles along the road to Newbrough.

Meanwhile, Pete and I soldiered on (I hope you got the pun there) a further 10 miles along what was thankfully a fairly flat path running alongside the B6318 to Walwick and Collerford, before the path turned south to Wall.¬† The only thing that kept me going was Pete’s promise of a beer in the appropriately name Hadrian Hotel in Wall.¬† Cheers Pete!¬† ūüćĽ ūüėÄ

Long distance running (part 2)… The JOGLE, 1983

The sun has been¬†shining brightly in the Val d’H√©rens, but the temperatures¬†have been¬†double digit negative (degrees C, single figures F)¬†and the ski runs¬†are not completely pisted, so it’s time for a¬†blast from the past…

I mentioned in April last year that I’d run my first marathon (London) in 1982.¬†¬†¬†The following year, I took part in a long distance relay¬†race,¬†from John O’Groats to Land’s End, or The¬†JOGLE for short.
(For non-UK residents, these two locations represent the furthest, NE and SW, tips of mainland Britain).

The event was the brainchild of a guy called Gordon Cairns who, for 5 or 6 years, had¬†organised an annual event called Computastars.¬† This competition pitted teams of IT staff in a series of quasi-athletic ‘events’, which varied from bouncing tennis balls into a bucket on your head, to an 800 metre steeplechase, complete with water jump.¬† But I digress…

The pre-set JOGLE route was around 860 miles (or 1,385 km) long and the only rules were that you had up to 15 people in a team and each runner had to spend a minimum of 15 minutes on the road.  Otherwise it was a straightforward, non-stop relay.

Six teams took up the challenge, all running for the two¬†charities of the Arthritic and Rheumatism Council and the British Heart Foundation.¬†¬† We added a 3rd, a local Children’s Hospice, and¬†we spent¬†9 months planning, organising back-up crews¬†and raising sponsorship.¬† In total,¬†I think we raised about ¬£3,500 for the¬†charities.

In terms of organisation, we decided to have 3 groups of 5 runners and each group would cover a prescribed distance (usually around 60 miles) before handing over to the next group.  CB radios were used to keep in touch with each other and we had three stop-over points pre-arranged en route for a bit of rest.

Incredibly, after¬†50 miles, there were 3 runners side by side on the road.¬†¬†¬†Gradually though the Barclays team pulled ahead of the Computastars team with our Rowntree team about 30 minutes behind them.¬† I should reiterate that this was a non-stop relay and so the runners continued into, and indeed through the night, with (in our case) cyclists¬†or the minibus ferrying the runners, lighting the way ahead.¬† In essence, each group was ‘on the road’ for just over 6 hours, before getting 12 hours rest, though in this time they also had to travel 120 miles or so to their next changeover point.

By pure chance (or was it just brilliant planning?) we had arranged for all 15 of our team¬†to be together¬†for the last 50 miles, just in case we had any injuries.¬† It turned out that¬†5 had problems, so we had 10 ‘fit’ runners available to complete this last section.¬† It was also¬†around this¬†point that the organisers decided to¬†scrap the 15 minute rule – just to make the finish a little more interesting.¬† So we set about catching the Computastars team who, unfortunately for them, only had¬†4 people available for this part of the route.¬†¬† So, instead of the usual 2.5 to¬†4¬†miles, we began to run 1 mile at a time and we were prepared to drop people off ‘parachute style’ if necessary to catch them.¬† The buzz of excitement in the minibus as we closed in on them¬†was incredible.

In the event, the Barclays team won the race, in a time of just over 3 days and 18 hours.   We managed to catch the Computastars team in the last few miles to finish 2nd, but only by a mere 46 seconds!   Our times were 3 days and a little over 22 hours.
For the runners amongst you, (to save you doing the maths), this works out at a little over 9 miles per hour, or 6.5 minutes per mile.  (If only I could do that now!!)  Each runner covered an average of 57 miles (or 92km).

Unfortunately I have no pictures of the event myself, so I’m¬†very grateful¬†to Cliff Baughen, of the Computastars team, for the pictures below.¬† He published a similar¬†post here some years ago.¬† You’ll see Cliff stonking along in the last picture. ūüôā

Just a little run around Britain

Here’s a little story¬†which you runners and charitable people might like… (and believe me, this is not a joke !)

Yesterday evening, Jude and I were sitting quietly in the Waterside Caf√© in Lochcarron, NW Scotland, when¬†a guy walked¬†in¬†looking a bit tired and he asks¬†Geoff, the owner, if he could have a glass of warm water.¬† He says¬†he’s a little de-hydrated after running over from Applecross on the west coast. (That’s at least 17 miles by road according to Google, not to mention going over the steep pass called the Bealach).¬† We strike up a conversation and it turns out his name is Simon Clark and he’s running around Britain for the¬†Ecologia Youth Trust charity.¬† (The Trust works with children and young people around the world who have been abandoned, orphaned, made vulnerable by poverty and disease).

Now, I like a challenge, but that’s a cool 5,000 miles, which will take him¬†about a year to complete.¬† His target is 100 miles per week for 50 weeks.¬† Not only that but he’s carrying all his own gear in a small rucksack and sleeping wherever he can, only using B&Bs or the like when he feels the need to freshen up a bit.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology you can follow his progress around the UK ‘live’¬†here.¬† Of course I’m also sure¬†that Simon won’t mind if you would like to¬†support this very worthwhile¬†cause¬†– see above website or¬†quick link here.

It makes a marathon seem like look like a sprint !