TandemWoW // Around the world in under 320 days // #1
Who, what, when, why…
– Who – We are Cat and Rachael aka TandemWoW – (WoW – is Women on Wheels)
– Our bike, a tandem, of course, named Alice. You will hear us refer to Alice a lot I suspect, so keep in mind ‘Alice’ is our bike and not a third member of TandemWow (not a living, breathing one anyway). Alice is a custom steel Orbit tandem from JD Tandems, hand-built by the legendary frame builders Bob Jackson in Yorkshire. She can be broken down into two parts for ease of transport and is painted bright pink in honour of our local club, the Cowley Condors.
– Our kit – We’re riding in stolen goat cycling gear. They are kindly sponsoring us but that aside Stolen goat clothing is amazing, it is so comfortable and breathable but also looks great! The stolen goat team helped us design a jersey for the ride. It has our charity’s logos on it and TandemWoW, and is in our cycling club colours
– Why – We hope to be the fastest women to circumnavigate the world on a tandem – setting a new world record whilst raising money for charity and profiling women’s cycling (including for women over 50 – but don’t mention that bit). We are raising money for two charities – Oxfam and Motor Neurone Disease association, click here to see how much we’ve raised so far and we are extremely grateful for any donation.
– When – We started in Oxford on 29th June – it will take us 10 months but less than 320 days (to break the record). 18,000 miles and 5 continents averaging around 80-100 miles every day for 319 days with one rest day a week.
TandemWow // Our first week
I can’t believe it’s been over a week since we set off on our attempt to become the fastest women to circumnavigate the globe on a tandem.
The penny is finally beginning to drop that we are attempting to cycle around the world and that we will be away from our families, friends and homes for almost 10 months.
We made the final decision to go for it in January this year – and since, have been planning and organising for what we know will be an epic trip. The few weeks before we set off were maniacally busy – sorting logistics and also working with our amazing charities to raise awareness about our trip and to fundraise.
This gave us little time to reflect on what we were taking on – especially as Raz had to complete an 11,000-word portfolio for work. This general busyness led to a few mishaps – arriving in
Northampton to meet our sponsor Stolen Goat, only to realise that they are in Hampshire and not Northampton – it doesn’t bode well for navigating around the world!
As the day of our world departure rapidly approached we were both feeling a mixture of anticipation, excitement and pure terror. It was also hard to know that we would be leaving our families and friends behind for 10 months. We were also slightly apprehensive about our departure- would anyone turn up to see us head off?
On the day we were just completely blown away by the support. Over 100 people turned up to see us off and wish us well. It was magical. There was a party atmosphere. It would have been nice to stay and chat and drink coffee but come 10am, with a countdown, we were off followed by the Cowley Road Condor Cycling Club and friends from Stolen Goat, our cycling gear sponsor. Although it was sad to say goodbye to our families, we left on a high.
The first days’ ride took us from Oxford to south London. We set off through the lovely and familiar Oxfordshire countryside and onto the Chiltern Hill’s. We were flying in spite of all the kit on Alice (the tandem).
London was hot. The previous week had seen a heatwave in France with temperatures over 40degrees – London was catching the tail end. As we were weaving through the traffic in Uxbridge we had our first puncture. Everything off the bike to fix the back wheel and we are off again!
We stopped at every single traffic light – they were all red. It did mean we could chat as we waited at lights including with a police officer who we couldn’t persuade to give us a blue light through London but who did donate to our charities. London is often thought of as an unfriendly city, but we received spontaneous cheer and support as we rode along and for the most part, the horn blowing was positive (we like to think)! It was also inspiring to cycle past London icons, including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. We finally arrived in south London around 8pm. It was lovely to stay with friends, eat and wash the sweat off our kit!
We needed an early start the next day to get us to Dover. Whilst packing we noticed a car outside with two men, not a security guard, but Tom and Carl the camera crew who were going to be spending the next two days with us.
It was lovely to cycle out of London during the early hours of the morning. The hills in Kent were hard (Kent is definitely not flat), and the cycleways to the ferry had barriers which, we could get the tandem through without lifting it so the going was hard and slow. In spite of this, we got to the ferry on time but realised we had left Tom and Carl in the long vehicle queue. We waited and were just tucking into a Croque monsieur and a cup of tea when we were called to board. With a Croque monsieur under a bungy and trying to balance the tea whilst riding, we boarded the boat looking at the white cliffs and thinking we won’t see them again for another 10 months. It was amazing to arrive in Calais realising we were no longer a Sunday ride in the UK, we were in France.
We set off for our day’s ride in France stopping at the side of the road to do a live interview with Radio Oxford. We soon found ourselves on the backroads of France including some hairy sections on gravel. Carl (cameraman) sent up a drone to film us, which hopefully didn’t disrupt local air traffic! We met Arne and Anouk from our cycling club who had been tracking us since 5:30 am, which was a real boost as we carried on through beautiful fields of golden brown and ready for harvest with a smattering of poppies. “Mountain biking” on a fully laden tandem was hard and we longed for easier roads. We didn’t find them but did find ourselves riding up an incredibly steep hill and onto a road being newly tarmacked. We were assisted by French workers who helped us lift the bike over the sticky fresh tarmac. We said goodbye to Carl and Tom and we were on our own.
One thing about northern France is that for most of the time it is shut. Shops may open for a few minutes early morning in locations not anywhere near us. They close on Sunday, Monday afternoon, and at lunchtimes for several hours of the day, in other words… just when you need them! So finding food, coffee and water was tiring, to say the least, and quickly became the main focus.
We travelled on through the war cemeteries of northern France, always moving and poignant, and onto Arras in search of a campsite. Google maps had the “open now” filter on and as such all the campsites disappeared. After a long search, we pulled off the road exhausted and knowing that tonight will be our first wild camp.
Waking early with what sounded like a bird singing in the tent (fortunately it was outside), we packed up and were on our way (slightly dishevelled but happy). We cycled through into Champagne country on route to Reims looking at the sunflowers in bloom in the fields either side and headed for a bike shop as Alice’s gears were slipping badly. We arrived at 3 minutes to 12 (the shop closed at 12 for a long lunch….) but managed to persuade a reluctant mechanic to fix them. After lunch in the square and gazing at the amazing cathedral, we picked up part of Le Tour de France route looking at the familiar champagne producers en route and avoiding a long leisurely (and no doubt tipsy), afternoon in Moët Chandon we carried onto Laon.
After a long day in the saddle through the champagne county, we found that it was getting late so we went in search of a campsite. We thought that we would follow google map instructions to the nearest campsite. Big mistake. We found ourselves sweating up the steepest climb of the day with google maps trying to re-route us into a forest. We turned off onto a rutted gravel track and continued bouncing along and trying to stay on the bike. We started to be concerned when a wild boar ran across our path. Imagining our bodies being found weeks later partially eaten by wild boar, Raz reached for the rape alarm. This will scare them off! Finally, emerged from the forest only to find no campsite. We camped on a football pitch using the team’s changing facilities for water!
In the morning we did a hilly hot ride to Dijon for a half-day rest. Woke to a thunderstorm and set off in the pouring rain heading for Bourg-en- Bresse. We had arranged a ‘warmshower’ (people who will house and feed cyclists) and we were looking forward to a night in a bed! We spent the day in a washing cycle, rain, wind and sun before finally arriving at the lovely Claire’s house where she lived with her son. We said hi to a number of friends sitting around chatting in French whilst we yearned for food. We were served pasta and cauliflower and asked whether we wanted to go salsa dancing. Not wanting to seem impolite, we agreed and headed off for a dance class at 10pm. Fortunately, it was not on that night so instead, we went to watch the town’s light-show which was lovely although incomprehensible. We were so tired we were literally nodding off, whilst still trying to fane enthusiasm for the show. We finally got to bed, one which we were told was almost clean.
We headed off with Clare in the morning to reach the Rhône. Really hot day and hilly. We travelled through Lyon feeling as if the Rhône was like Brigadoon – in the distance but we couldn’t quite get there. We finally did see the Rhône for about 5 minutes before the route took us away from it up a very steep hill on paving.
Decided to push on the next day close to Avignon, it would be exciting to see the famous Pont’. It was one of those days…. No cafes open, McDonald’s lost our order, Alice flung off one of the bags, long wait at a fruit stall, we ran over Raz’s sunglasses and she cracked an ankle on the peddle and it was really hot. We pushed on down the N7 looking out for glimpses of the Rhône between the power stations. Stopping at Decathlon and falling asleep on the AstroTurf to the bemusement of shoppers. Finally arrived after cycling 95 miles just outside Avignon where the campsite had a karaoke playing until the early hours.
After an inadequate breakfast courtesy of the campsite, we headed into Avignon for a second breakfast and to see the famous Pont d’Avignon. Lovely city with a festival in full swing made us wish we were staying longer. After, we went off through the picturesque forest of Cheval Blanc and onto the outskirts of Marseille where we set up camp for the evening.
The next day we were up early, as we had planned a massive ride over the hills into Cannes where we had accommodation courtesy of Louisa. We needed a day off and were looking forward to treating the heat rash and the sore bums and generally just being off the bike for a whole day. The morning was lovely as we travelled through Provenance past the posh wineries and local fruit stalls. We then hit the traffic and found ourselves on a really busy road with no hard shoulder. Balancing a tandem is hard especially fully loaded and cycling in traffic is tiring. We knew that we also had a big climb at the end of the day but we didn’t realise just how big until we did it. The first part was really steep with sections of about 20 degrees, the rest was just long and distance to the top, unknown…
As we climbed our way up to our first two mountain cols before the descent into Cannes we saw the sea for the first time since arriving in France. Seeing the sea for the first time and knowing that we had travelled the whole length of France was inspiring. We had also received a tweet from Sir Steve Redgrave during the day and that had spurred us on. We finally arrived in Cannes, dehydrated and covered in heat rash but in great spirits. Our accommodation was up a very steep hill with views to the sea and city, it was truly magical when we arrived but both looking forward to a rest.
Thank you for reading and look out for our next post
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