It’s Mo-time in India

Yes indeed, an intrepid Raleigh crew is bringing Movember to this land of the amazing moustache.

Usually at this time of year I’d be asking you to join in fundraising for the lovely ladies at Dragons Abreast, but instead, this year it’s all about men’s health.

There’s lots of information out there about what Movember is, and where the money goes, but mostly I just love that a couple of aussie blokes in a pub had a conversation about 70’s fashion which became a global fundraising movement of hairy top lips.

So if you’re feeling generous towards the cause of men’s health globally, or towards me having to endure a month of very ropey moustache fashion from the gents of expedition 12J, then you can pop over here to donate.

Thanks for your support!

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Some photos!

At last, here are a few pictures of the indian adventure so far.  They come from where I’m living and working (fieldbase), trips to town (Mysore), and a couple of ‘loop’ trips during phase 1 when I had the privilege of driving through some spectacular indian countryside down to the southern state of Kerala to visit one of our trekking teams with ‘team loop awesome’ – a really fun few days.

We’ve just survived the first ‘changeover’, which is when all the teams come back to fieldbase, give back all their gear, get a bit of free time, have some fun, are re-allocated into new groups, then pack up all the gear again and head out for the second phase of project work.  You can read more about the comings and goings on the Raleigh blog over here.  You’ll note we’re getting on board with Movember, so expect to hear more about that soon 🙂

I’m heading out on the first phase 2 loop soon, in which we’ll visit all 4 project teams, and probably do quite a lot of digging.  Fingers crossed my laundry dries in time for me to pack!

Hope you’re all well.


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India hots up

It’s the start of week 4 in India with Raleigh.  The venturers arrived this afternoon, and the craziness metre in logistics land is continuing to crank up.

I’d love to write you a concise, witty post containing my observations and experiences from the last 3 weeks, but I feel like it’s been so overwhelming and I’ve had so little time to myself to process anything, that any attempt to begin at the beginning might result in my brain exploding all over the computer.  So instead, here’s a few snippets in no particular order. In the last 3 weeks there’s been…

…the forming of a tight-knit staff team and new friendships.  Ordering copious amounts of food from a wholesaler who at that stage knew more about my stores than I did.  Elephants stopping traffic in down-town Mysore.  Amazing indian food.  Less amazing indian gut illness.  Feeling extremely unfit while climbing the 1000 steps up Chumundi Hill.  Working my way slowly up to being the person who has the answers to everyone’s questions about everything.  Learning comms skills and answering the phone for the first time with ‘Hello unknown callsign, this is zero, comms check, over.’  Working out how much bamboo to order for an environmental project group to build their camp.  Establishing that the door mat liquidation sale guy is a handy landmark on the way into town.  The cow calmly lying in the middle of a 6-way intersection as a bus (and the rest of the crazy traffic) tried to corner around it.  The great mix of tiny shops in town selling everything from old newspaper to designer shoes.  Relaxing by the pool at the Lalith Mahal (summer palace), and the way it glowed as the sun set.  High security supermarket shopping.  The joy of a pizza after 3 weeks of curry.  Having a guess at how to wear a sari for an evening of trivia, bad dancing and general hilarity.  The building sense of panic as venturer arrival approached.  Glorious sunsets.  Sweat, sunburn and a new appreciation of a good bucket shower.  The clicking sound of the palm trees and the jangling of the cow’s bells around fieldbase.  Magi the cow sticking her head curiously into logs.  Little Cow with a bucket stuck on his head.  The morning throat-clearing ritual.  The guy who walks unhurriedly past the gate at about 6pm every evening behind his cart drawn by two yoked cows.  Gorgeous indian children with huge smiles.  Trekking soon after dawn past neatly plowed and planted fields.  The women washing their clothes laughing incredulously at us jumping into their river.  Evening volleyball games.    Living in the giggle tent.  Sleeping in the mosquito net cocoon…

…which is where I’m going to head now.  First full day of venturer induction and training kicks off bright and early tomorrow.

Hope you’re all well.

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A week and a bit into the India adventure

It’s been a busy 10 days!  We spent the last 48 hours trekking about 16kms from our fieldbase out to a rice-paddy-ringed campsite near the river, getting on top of skills like how to pack your bag for trekking, camp cooking, long drop construction, casualty evacuation and remembering to drink enough water and wear sunscreen or reap the consequences… (I missed the backs of my legs. Ouch).

It was also my first experience of preparing and ‘dishing out’ gear from the logistics store to the two trekking teams.. a procedure I’ll be getting much more familiar with over the coming weeks.  Getting up to speed on all the ‘logs’ stuff has been a little crazy, but I’m holding on by my fingertips and operating on the ‘just in time’ principle!  I keep telling myself I’ll deal with my growing ‘to do / find out how that works’ list when I get a spare moment, but the spare moments can be hard to come by.

I’m just writing this while the other project managers are in a session that I’ve already done.  Probably should go and see if I can cross anything off that to do list…  We’re heading into Mysore this afternoon for some free time before dinner.  I’m planning to shop for clothes.

Don’t forget to check in on the expedition blog for more news and photos.  Thanks Mum for the blog comments – I have them printed and stuck on the board above my desk 🙂


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And now I’m in India!

Pop over here to see where and why!

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I’m still alive, and on my way to somewhere new.

Just checking in from the cone of silence to let you know that I’ve enjoyed hanging out in the UK since I left France in late July.  I’ve pottered about in Manchester, relaxed in a couple of lovely coastal towns in Wales, explored Bristol (home of an excellent hot air balloon fiesta), and then returned to London town.

In London, I spent a week or so helping the fine folk from CrossroadsGlobal Hand team run a “Struggle for Survival” simulation, managed to fit in visits to a couple of musicals and a few iconic sights, watched a lot of amazing sport on television, and have spent much of the rest of my time scouring the outdoors/travel shops of London for the kit I’ll need for the next chapter of the adventure… in India!

Tomorrow I’m flying to India where I’ll spend 3 months as volunteer logistics crew on an expedition with Raleigh International.  I’m feeling quite daunted, not least about having to fit all this new kit into my backpack!  But am looking forward to getting involved in some community development work ‘on the ground’ to see what that’s like.  And I’ve been getting quite excited about the difference toilets can make to local communities… You’ll probably be hearing more about that over coming months!

I’m hoping there’ll be sufficient internet access for me to be able to update you on my personal journey as the adventure unfolds, but just in case, here’s a link to another blog:  http://www.raleighindia.blogspot.co.uk/  This is the official Raleigh blog for all their India expeditions.  My expedition is called ’12J’ and our adventures as a team will start appearing there soon.  You can get in touch with me by leaving comments on the expedition blog if it turns out I’m de-internetted for a while!

And with that, it’s back to the packing challenge!  Hope you’re all well.





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Le Tour – Wrap up

So I know everyone has moved on to the Olympics already, but I finally got around to adding photos to the rest of my TdF posts.  So if you want to relive the magic (or just check out the photos), you can find them here:

Tour stage 14 – the finish at Foix

Tour stage 15 – near the feed zone out of Marciac

Tour stage 16 – on the Tourmalet foothills near Bareges

Tour stage 17 – the finish at Peyragudes

Tour stage 18 – the start at Blagnac

Tour stage 19 – ITT near Chartres

Also, I know I didn’t put up a post about stage 20 – the grande finale on the Champs!  I started one, but I was a bit tired and it never really took off.  Here’s what I had ‘saved as draft’…

“And finally, Paris!  I’ve only followed the final week, I haven’t been on a bike for a single kilometre, and I’m exhausted.  I can’t imagine how relieved all the riders, teams, media, caravane folk, roadies, crew, gendarmes, officials and everyone else must be to reach Paris after three weeks of this crazily fascinating race.”

Sounds like it was shaping up to be a top little post, right?!  But, like you, I’ve also moved on to the Olympics and so will satisfy the need to ‘finish’ the TdF series with ‘the last day in pictures’, herewith.

It was indeed a crazy week, filled with all kinds of awesomeness and memories I’ll keep for a long time.  Glad you all enjoyed reading along.  Vive Le Tour!!

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Tour chase day 6 – Stage 19 ITT

Jumped on the train from Paris to Chartres for the final ‘Contre la Montre’ of this tour – the stage 19 individual time trial.  The caravane again proved helpful for course location – this time I just followed the noise!

I wandered away from the town centre to a pleasantly uncrowded spot just over 3km from the finish on a long straight incline, made friends with the group of genial old locals who had installed themselves in the bar across the road for the day and who thought I should have been more excited that the first ever englishman was about to win the tour, teamed up with a passing Aussie called Greg who had a large camera and the start order saved on his phone, and settled in to wait for the riders to appear.

And now I understand why it’s so frustrating watching an ITT on television.  Very few of the riders had any press following them on the road.  There were no helicopters, and really only the last 5 guys had a motorbike camera with them.  For the bulk of the field, that means there is probably only a camera on them as they leave the start and arrive at the finish.  It must be nightmarish for the tv guys to put the footage together coherently, and then even harder to commentate on!

It was pretty good being in one spot on the side of the road though, as we got to see each rider come past individually over the course of the afternoon.  All kinds of interesting vehicles had been pressed into service to follow the riders – particularly the early guys at the lower end of the field.  The Mavic spares cars, several official skodas, some nameless rentals, and the odd caravane sponsor’s car came by bearing the riders’ names with the official team cars reserved for the top riders.  Also surprising was the number of riders being followed by a car without any spares on board – either bikes or wheels.  Obviously, for many, this wasn’t a high pressure stage.

The helpful old guys over the road, sporting a variety of free caravane hats and consulting the newspaper for the start order, made sure I was informed when any notable french riders were approaching, and also when any Australians were on their way.  I enjoyed watching them get very excited for their french heroes (Voekler – always gets the loudest cheer from the french fans), and in turn they laughed at me waving my flag and shouting shamelessly for all the aussies.

In between times, we all cheered for everyone else (Allez Allez!), marvelled at the shiny Astana time trial suits, tried to work out who had caught and overtaken whom, and generally passed a pleasantly lazy afternoon in another picturesque french streetscape.

Then finally, the top guys appeared.  Richie Porte, rampaging.  Tejay having overtaken Cadel.  Froome looking strong… and a far smaller gap than we had expected to Wiggins in the yellow, followed by all the press motos that had been missing earlier, and powering to an unequivocal win.  Impressive.

Scored seats on the packed train back to Paris in my own moment of victory for the day.  All set for the grand finale the following day – Stage 20 on the Champs-Elysees!

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Le Tour du Tour day 5 – Stage 18

On not nearly enough sleep after all the excitement of the previous day, I was up early again, this time to head out to Blagnac for the start of stage 18. Aims for the day were to find the Orica GreenEdge team bus during the ‘getting ready’ period, and see some of the sign-on, before watching them roll out for the day.

Not really knowing precisely where in Blagnac I might find Le Tour, Blagnac being a peripheral village of Toulouse, I caught the tram and followed the crowd. It turned out to be not that difficult – the Caravane was just passing by to start its journey as I arrived so I followed them and they led me all the way to the start line, the ‘village depart’, and all the festivities.

I thought the team buses must have been hiding somewhere else, as they were nowhere to be seen when I arrived. But actually they were just on their way – arriving in the wake of the caravane accompanied by all the team cars loaded up with squillions of dollars worth of bikes. FDJ have the only female bus driver, just fyi.

I got a wave from the GreenEdge support guys, and wished them a good day as they went past on their way in to the dusty field where all the teams would prepare for the day. Unfortunately, it turned out that access to the dusty field was for pass-holders only, and the GreenEdge bus was somewhere in the middle so I couldn’t really see them from outside the fence. On the upside, the BMC bus was on the edge, so I joined a bunch of other Aussies waiting to see Cadel Evans, including the Crikey Cadel Crocodile who had energetically perched himself on the fence, propped against a porta-loo, for maximum visibility. Well done that man. I was glad Cadel gave him a big thumbs up when he emerged from the bus – well deserved for such dedicated fandom.

I watched a bit of the signing on, and saw team Sky presented to the crowd as a unit and receiving a lot of handshakes from presumably important people. (I assume they were leading the teams classification that morning).

And without much ceremony, the riders were all rolling over towards the surprisingly small start area. The crowd was already a bit thick around there, so I skirted around back streets with a crew of other brisk walkers until we found a relatively uncluttered corner to watch them ride past, still in the neutral zone.

The trickle of official vehicles and press motorbikes turned into a stream, and finally the red Skoda with the white Depart flag flapping madly led the bunch around the corner and up the road, followed by team cars, more official vehicles, and, oddly, Mark Cavendish who had clearly experienced some kind of issue and was a fair way behind the bunch at the start. (Whatever it was didn’t affect his performance later in the day though… what a sprint!)

Finally the team bus drivers executed some more impressive precision driving and navigated their huge vehicles through the tiny french back streets and onward towards today’s finish. Another wave to the GreenEdge bus, and I was hurrying back through town to squeeze into a packed tram and return to Toulouse in time to hop on the TGV… next stop, Paris!

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Tour chase day 4 – Stage 17 – Or, “The Day Cadel Gave Me A Wave”

This day had been looming for a while.  And not just for the GC contenders.

I was facing the prospect of driving through the mountains to get anywhere near the ski-resort finish at Peyragudes. The possibility of having to park far away and walk for miles, possibly straight up the side of a mountain. The challenge of getting across to the right side of the track in order to pick up my pass and enter the VIP area. Getting off the mountain again along with everyone else, and driving back to Toulouse, hopefully still leaving some time for sleep that night. Doing all this without my tour chase buddy Liz, as the awesome Tour Team of previous days parted ways.

There were nerves. There was a contingency purchase of a topographic map in case of unexpected mountain-side orienteering. And there was a very early start.

As it often does, being up before the sun proved worthwhile.  As I drove out of the cloud in the valley and up the Col du Tourmalet, I was rewarded with spectacular views of the sunrise over the Pyrennees, and almost deserted roads. In fact, for most of the drive, I was only sharing the roads with a few cows, the odd campervan, and the municipal cleaners – walking the roads behind their trucks to clean up all the detritus left by yesterday’s tour crowds. I drove over the Tourmalet, the Col d’Aspin and up towards the Col du Peyrasude, following almost exactly a section of the stage 16 route. My respect for these riders continues to grow. Those are some big mountains. And fun roads to drive when I relaxed enough to enjoy it!

Reaching the final approach before all the roads were closed, I chanced my luck and drove up the mountain. I thought I’d made a terrible error when I found myself driving between the barriers in the final kms (visions of attempting a 20 point turn in front of unhappy officials on a steep slope… should I have tried to park in that one tiny spot on the side of a sheer drop between campervans?), but found salvation in the form of a helpful marshal towards the top. I asked him if I could turn around in the driveway he was guarding, and he told me I could drive right in there – it was a carpark about the size of a small airfield, hidden over the side of the hill! Hooray!!

Bleary eyed campers were emerging from tents and the ubiquitous campervans, a variety of flags and bunting was hanging from the ski lodge balconies, and all kinds of encouragement was painted on the road… Clearly the Tour was coming to town at Peyragudes.

As the cloud rolled across the mountain top, periodically obscuring and revealing the surrounding vista, I walked the final few kilometres to find the finish area and check out the layout for the day.  They were just taping down the finish line and measuring where to paint the ‘SKODA’ logos on the road. A tech guy ran cables to the finish-line commentary box, and erected speakers. Another team worked behind slow-moving vans to stretch the sponsors’ advertising banners over the roadside barriers. A jovial mob of about 50 tour roadies held their morning briefing on the track. A group of Japanese fans with Europcar flags spread groundsheets and took photos of each other as they staked out a spot by the finish line to cheer home their countryman.

After asking a couple of marshals, I decided I had sufficiently precise instructions on where to pick up my wristband for later access to the VIP area, and headed back to the village to absorb the atmosphere and watch the organised chaos unfold.

There was a roving band of minstrels, a lot of people wearing orange, sweaty amateur cyclists sporting more shaved legs than you’d see at a girls high school, the installation of the flamme rouge and the mountain points banner, and a young gendarme struggling to maintain control of his entry to the restricted area as the trickle of officials and absolutely-not-officials gradually turned into a torrent.   The official merchandise shop did  brisk business, as did the sausage sizzle.

News that the GreenEdge rep with the VIP passes was running late due to TdF traffic jams threw a small spanner in my carefully laid plans.  I now had to get myself to the VIP area gate on the restricted side of the track in order to pick up my pass.  Sadly though, you needed a pass to get to the gate where I was supposed to pick up my pass.  Difficult.  But not insurmountable.  It turns out that standing on the other side of the track, wearing an Aussie flag, and waving your arms about while yelling “Shane! Help!” is effective in these situations.

I teamed up with a couple of other groups of Aussies heading in to the VIP area and we eventually formed a crew of about 10 as we staked out our spot on the barriers at the final corner, about 70m from the the finish line.  They were a good bunch and we passed a pleasant afternoon watching the caravane, watching the crowd, watching the action on the big screen in the distance, watching the marshalls try valiantly to keep the track clear of frustratingly slow-moving official cars, and, at last, watching the riders arrive!

After all that climbing, they still came flying in to the finish.  Because of space restrictions, the team buses were parked back near the flamme rouge, and all the riders, after crossing the finish line and running the media gauntlet, simply turned around and rode back out along the edge of the track to get back to their teams.  And so, we got to see them all again, at low speed, and right in front of us!  As Cadel came past, sweat dripping from his chin, I gave him a big wave of the flag and a “We love you Cadel! You’re awesome!” (just utilising the royal ‘we’ there, or cheering on behalf of all Australians perhaps, except the haters), and he saw me and smiled and waved!!!  Huge highlight!   And all this after I’d met Robbie McEwen earlier in the VIP zone!  Brushes with Australian cycling royalty all round.

The day wasn’t over though until I’d gotten myself off the mountain, which I expected to take quite a long time given the nasty snarl of team cars + press motos + official skodas + caravane vehicles + gendarmes that formed almost immediately after the last rider crossed the line.  There was a system though, and, fortunately, two roads off the mountain – one being used by everyone official, and the other for the punters.  I only sat in the snaking line of traffic for about an hour, which was better than I expected, I made it safely back to Toulouse with only a couple of minor disputes with the Paul-the-SatNav-voice, AND found a spot to park in the same street as my hotel.  A winning end to another super day.

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