Colm's Charity Cycle Diary
Colm Baldwin is currently cycling 750km across Spain in aid of the Irish Hospice Foundation. He is being sponsored by Bluebird Care and we have asked Colm to write us a blog to update us on his challenge.
Please support Colm and the Irish Hospice Foundation by following him on Twitter at @colmba and the charity @IrishHospice. You can also Text IHF to 50300 to donate €4 to Irish Hospice Foundation.
Day 4 Balaguer to Cardona
We have an early start this morning just after 8 as we have near 160km to cover including a daunting climb from the Spanish Tour “Vuelta” , which was the topic of many a “are you going to try it?” quiet conversations the night before.
and once away from the town we are on some nice rolling roads as we pull in stock up on the water etc and get a few nice pics with our vital support team of Marcin our mechanic , Amparo our Spanish ambassador and Helen and Amy from IHF. Along the way we misplace plucky Rachel having somehow got detached from our group. Rachel and her sister Bronagh have a powerful story to tell regarding their reason to do the trip, one that touches anyone who hear it. Duncan the shepherd (group leader that day) soon brings our lost sheep back to the fold. Now the terrain is really rural with the odd farm here and there and more than a few large angry dogs in farmyards which causes the odd sprint in the group today. Todays’ group is a mixture of the cyclists from two groups who’ve decided to tackle the weeks big climb today, about half of the overall total. We emerge from this road to our lunch stop at 52k to a remote restaurant which has all the appearances of a 'Breaking Bad' type rendezvous, a remote drive in with no customers, in dry oppressive 37c heat. However as with many Spanish eateries, looks deceive, and the downbeat places invariably have the best food and don’t need to trade on flash frontage. Another superb buffet lunch of simple but delicious food is wolfed down in anticipation of needing lots of fuel for the challenge later. Off we go and straight away we are on rolling climbs as the road winds up and down. Only the odd car interrupts us. We have around 20 to 25k of this before finally reaching a high point and dropping a fast 5k down to Salsona for refuelling before starting on the climb of the day, the infamous Col du Jou. We are quickly strung out as everyone takes the following 23k climb at their own pace. A few birds with a huge wingspan fly quickly overhead. Are they vultures? Temp still well in the 30's at this stage. The gradient goes up to 8,9 and 10% for a few km and long straight appears with heat shimmering from the road. At one point we see some cyclists across the valley and wonder how they got so far ahead, More savage climbing then we crest a summit and proceed down the other side in a great downhill stretch before we start climbing again. At this stage it’s myself and Geoff who’ve ended up by accident more than design, at the head of our group by a few mins. It takes an hour and a half of grinding continuously upward, sometimes chatting, always sweating and downing 2 litres of water and electrolytes to help us avoid the dreaded cramps. Eventually 2km after the 23km sign (the supposed distance to the top) we round a corner and see the support crew at the summit ahead. We high five to celebrate the highest point of the week. Keelan and Suzanne the first lady to arrive (a fabulous cyclist). We wait until everyone is at the top and take some photos to remember the day, and there are a number quiet moments for some too.
An amazing, thrilling descent follows with 63km top speed achieved, in a glorious mix of beautiful curving turns on a perfect road snaking steeply into the valley and after a high speed 9k we stop for the obligatory ice cream in the next town. We have more descents as we reach the lake in the valley and some tunnels bored through the mountains. Not too dangerous once you don't forget to take sunglasses off. The wind whips up in our face as we battle the last 40k home with a few sneaky hills here and there. Amazingly Salsona is only 5k to the right after our detour for the climbs we turn left for Cordona. As we hit Cordona we are all waiting for the 1500m climb to the hotel, a sting in the tail thing near 10% gradient, which I tackle with Gordon, a famous Rallye and sports car driver who still has that competitive streak in him. It’s a real pleasure to share this last climb with him as we reach our fabulous Parador castle (state run hotels in restored castles throughout Spain) our stop for the night, our one pampered accommodation night this week. Although we have all individually paid for the trip costs, we would have paid double for tonight’s bed after todays’ 160km and over 2500m of climbing. Col du Jou was a savage climb, and despite the discomfort today, we all shut up and acknowledge the challenges of the clients who benefit from the IHF palliative home care service, which our donors have kindly supported.
Credits: Tom Miley and Liam Egan
Day 3 Huesca to Balagur
Today was supposed to be the easy day of ONLY 129k we had breakfast at 7.30 and rolled out at 8.30. The previous days we had a lovely west wind helping us but today it was an east wind in our faces. After leaving the town we turned off on some quiet roads and the terrain was reasonably flat with the odd little drag. We could see villages raised slightly on little plateaus along the way with the church always the high point. We had our first break in a little village with a few of the senior citizens sitting outside wondering who had descended on them. Helen Amy and Carol fed us well so we continued on with the temperature starting to rise. We encountered very little traffic. A strange sight along the way was a tall phone transmission pylon completely taken over by straw nests built right to the top by cranes or similar type bird. We rolled into lunch stop Monzon at 68k. After lunch we took a quiet road which brought us up 2k climb at over 10% gradient and in this heat it was a struggle. The only consolation it was all downhill to Balaguer with a final nasty little climb to the hotel and our day is done. State 130.9k in about 6 hours, climbing 1110 metres. So much for an easy day. We finished around 5pm Spanish time. Tomorrow is another savage day with the Col du Joe climb (featured in the Spanish “Vuelta” tour) bringing us to 2450m and 157k distance.
Day 2 Pamplona to Huesco
Pamplona is a gorgeous town with a wonderful Plaza Mayor. We just missed San Fermin with its bull running which was about 2 weeks ago, but having done the run itself 3 years ago, I wasn’t exactly regretting missing the opportunity! No bulls were spotted but plenty of bull was spoken among the 47 IHFers.
With a seedy head took to the start line at 8. We rode parallel to the motorway with a nice pace. The views were spectacular with mountain ranges in the distance and with the temperature starting to rise. Vultures were flying overhead, with a wag remarking they are waiting for a tasty Irish cyclist to fall by the wayside. After the break straightaway we had a descent on a lovely surface. As the road ahead had been closed John had advised we would have to take a 4k climb at grade averaging 10% at the 55k mark. The first 2.5k were brutal but when we got to the top we had a superb view down the valley to Franco's man made lakes. After coffees down a tricky descent, we had a further 43k to lunch and as the heat increased this was a slog, but some views of the snow capped Pyrenees to the right helped to distract us with a debate over how could snow survive in this heat and the final verdict was that it was snow and they were at 3000m . We got to lunch with the heat at around 35k . We were starving but had to fight with other hungry groups for the grub. Straight away we had a climb of 4 to 5k which in this heat was a challenge. We got to the top and regrouped at 858 meters with the reward a lovely winding descent on good roads. More descents through lovely forests with spectacular views of the clearest blue lakes. A water stop with views of a rock formation called Murillo due Gallego was unbelievable, something like monument valley in the USA. We had a slog then till next water stop at around 146k, followed by a stretch at gradient at 5%. However, once over that drag the rod eased and we bombed down to Huesco finishing with 176k covered with over 2250m climbing.
Day 1 San Sebastian to Pamplona
We start passing through various towns which are all close together so lots of stopping and starting at lights. After a nice uninterrupted 5k we have our first food, water stop. John informed us we have only 19k to lunch which features a 6k climb. This turns out to be savage which is made worse by seeing the trucks that pass us switchback above us to emphasise where we have to go. We hit gradients of 12% which never seems to drop below 8. Regroup at top before cruising to lunch. On then to a welcome beer in Pamplona. The days cycle had been varied with breathtaking views on the descents. The Basque country we have been travelling through is spectacular and I feel privileged to have this opportunity with the IHF. Is there a better way to see a country than on a bike? 105k distance in 5 hours 15 mins. Climbing 2048 metres.