Sunday, 13 July 2014

The HCH 1200

'One day, it will be the difference between success and failure', he'd said.  Keith Shorten was right.

A gift from Keith Shorten anno 2011- thank you!
My chain snapping on the Herentals-Cosne/Loire-Herentals 1200 wasn't a lowlight, it was a highlight.  It is, when you're able to repair it!

I'm going to find it difficult to find many lowlights.  For only about half an hour did I have those 'Never do this again!' thoughts.  It's not the rain on the last day, but the temperature dropping, that made me a bit miserable.  However, with Jose Maria as a riding buddy, you'll soon laugh your way out of any negativity.

Jose Maria and I, laughing our way through the rain.
Photo by Guy Roefs
The topic of conversation causing the most hilarity was football.  Very topical, with the world cup going on.  Jose Maria hates football.  His story on how he was made to play football at school got me laughing out loud.  I could visualise it, Jose standing on the pitch.  He was told: 'You need to run!', but Jose claims he didn't know where to run to.  His footballing career lasted a month.

For me it was great, being in France when France was playing in the quarter-finals, and being in Belgium when Belgium was playing their quarter-final.  Jose observed that the roads in France were busy and dangerous whilst the football was on, and especially after they lost!  Whereas in Belgium, cycling whilst the game was on was like cycling on a car-free Sunday.

A French football fan in Vertus
We were in the Champagne area when France was playing Germany.    The Marne valley is wonderful to cycle through.  It struck me how beautiful and 'organic' the villages were.  Thought this could be to do with the fact that the vineyards would be more valuable than housing property, so there is no village expansion.

Champagne country
The unexpected tailwind also made for a good easy stretch of cycling along the Loire.

Along the Loire

It was hot though, that day, and one person was found in need of a cool down.

This was a 1200 like no other.  Three nights in a row, I slept for at least 3 hours, and that in a hotel!  No wonder I was smiling all the time.  My sister told me that every time she saw me, I was smiling.  Seeing familiar faces is always uplifting on a hard ride.  Seeing your sister as part of a well organised support crew could do nothing else but elevate your spirits to an even higher level.

Smiley me - Photo by Guy Roefs
Jan's organisation is amazing.  Everything is considered and executed to plan.  He pretty much predicted everybody's finish time also.  He got mine spot on at 9PM on Saturday.   It took some effort though.  On the last day, Jose and I had gone through some fast stretches early morning, some slow progress through the Ardennes, some sleepy moments late morning, some hunger pangs around Namur, etc.  Then Antonio and Bernard caught up with us, and then a few more riders bunched up towards the end, as tends to happen.  We formed a train!  A train on a dis-used railway track into Morkhoven.   Antonio set the pace and we all followed at high speed, energy coming from the thought of making an imagined deadline.  We got to the BBQ at 9PM on the dot.

The BBQ is another reason why this is a 1200 like no other.  After most 1200s, riders finish and disperse, go off home or to other accommodation.  On the HCH1200, you can ride your last day and time your finish to coincide with the BBQ party where all the early finishers will be.

Finishers and support crew - Photo by Guy Roefs
Many, many thanks to Jan, the main super-organiser, and everybody else who would have been involved in the background.  And many thanks to the Henri and Kris for the wonderful support.

Rest of my photos are here: MyPhotos
A great series of photos by Guy Roefs are here: Guy's Photos

Other thoughts:

  • Speaking westvlams to fellow riders was fun
  • Only, my sister sometimes felt the need to 'translate'
  • Had a trademark puncture before the start.  Thanks to Antonio and Jose for assistance in fixing.
  • Thanks to our wonderful pre- and post- ride host Paula
  • Fantastic experience cycling through Paris and seeing well known landmarks
  • Cycling through Le Cateau-Cambrésis, home town of Henri Matisse
  • As always, love a quickly served 'petit cafe' in France
  • Still taking no for an answer and had lunch at the Chinese restaurant, 90 minutes after it closed
  • PBPers chatting with us
  • Given a can of drink by a shop owner, fellow randonneur, out of respect for our 1200 efforts
  • Kris and I drove home to our parents for a wonderful après-ride holiday, and see stage 5 of the Tour de France go through the home town.