Langdon Velo rider and trustee Ben Miller keeps us up to speed with the events of this year’s ride…
Today’s riding was unequivocally the best of the trip. Some beautiful paths, through forests, valleys and hills, with many changes of scenery. It was around 110km with 1500m of climbing. This is a pretty substantial achievement and it was fantastic that nearly everybody completed.
This evening, we had our usual awards, where Dan Robey, the ride organiser thanked a number of people and gave awards to a number of others. We particularly celebrated Langdon and the Langdon members who are with us. There is a great photo of the five of them receiving their trophies, which I will post when I get hold of it tomorrow. Most important, Dan mentioned that the group has raised approximately £85,000, which, from memory, is the most a Langdon ride has raised yet. Fantastic generosity from all of our sponsors and all of the shirt sponsors. Thank you if you’re reading. A big focus for Langdon is employment, providing employment training for Members, helping them find jobs, and supporting them in those jobs. All of the Members riding with us on the trip have jobs, and the five of them spent a few minutes describing what they do – probably the best part of the evening.
Stepping back to the cycling briefly, take a look at this first photo. Any idea what it is?
Those of you with biking pedigree will recognise it is the top end of a pair of forks – the part of the bike which hold the front wheel and connects it to the handlebars. You will also recognise it is broken. For the uninitiated, the crack along the fork is intentional, but below this, it should be connected to the rest of the forks and a wheel. This is from the tandem Ted and I were riding today.
After a long downhill, where I began to get slightly nervous about the feeling of the breaks, I then realised that the handlebars were wobbling without moving the front wheel. We paused to check it out, couldn’t diagnose it, and figured we’d roll we hundred yards to where the rest of the group were gathered and get professional assistance. As we started, there was a “ping” and the handlebars were completely disconnected from the wheel. Not good! This happened while we were stationary, so no harm was done.
The upside, was that I got to have fun on a road bike – the extremely well maintained, carbon fibre bike belonging to one of the tour guides. For 30km, I raced along undulating bike paths through woodland and river valleys, chasing, and being chased by a handful of the other riders. All good things must of course come to an end and after lunch Dieter had the pleasure of the single bike, and Ted and I completed the ride on the tandem.
So the cycling is now done. The trip has been excellent, as always. There is a very large number of new riders with us, and feedback is extremely positive.
Tomorrow morning, a handful of us are going to the Alt-Neu Synangogue in Prague. No, not a curious keystroke combination, but Europe’s oldest active synagogue. One of our riders is saying the memorial prayer for a recently departed parent, so we’ve had some interesting services by the roadside.
After visiting this unique synagogue, we have a guided tour of Prague’s Jewish quarter. The Jewish quarter here is a remarkably well preserved, despite many years of Nazi occupation, as it was maintained by the Nazis to be a museum to people that was. After tomorrow’s talk, I will be far more knowledgeable on the subject and will add a few notes.
Yesterday was another long day, and, as you can perhaps guess from the fact that I am sending this in the morning and not yesterday evening, we ended up getting in very late. The cycling finished a little after 5pm, but a coach transfer to our final destination and some confusion with the hotels meant we didn’t actually sit down for dinner until 9:30 and in the evening drifted away in a mist of convivial conversation, good food and local Czech beer. We are now in the Czech Republic in the mediaeval town of Cesky Krumlov. It’s billed as the most beautiful town in the Czech Republic, and that could be correct. It’s only very picturesque, city nestled in a bow of the Vltava River with cobbled streets, pretty buildings and a castle.
About 20km before the end of yesterday’s ride we paused at a memorial to the Mauthausen/Gusen concentration camp. This was a large complex of facilities designed to provide slave labour to local industry, and to explicitly kill enemies of the state through overwork. They eventually had their own gas chambers to kill off those who were no longer useful to work. It’s not clear if the furnace in this picture is a reconstruction or original. There was a wide range of specific memorials to groups and individuals in this building, but nothing we noticed referring to Jews. Doing a little Internet research it seems that this camp was largely used for political prisoners and was not a major focus for exterminating Jews – although on a number of occasions Dutch and Hungarian Jews were brought here.
On a more positive note, we have had some ad hoc fundraising during the week. We have so far raised slightly over £500 for Dieter to shave his extraordinary beard – which he tells us has been growing for 2.5 years – and a further £300 for James Manton, one of the Langdon Members, to wear a Spurs shirt yesterday – he is a passionate Arsenal fan.
Yesterday was the last day for riding along the Danube. Which is a very impressive river. A good couple of hundred metres wide drifting from the Alps all the way through central Europe through to the Black Sea. Not as impressive as the massive rainforest rivers of the Amazon or Mekong, nor the great continental rivers like the Mississippi or Yangtse which are both well over a mile wide for large stretches. Nonetheless, yesterday was the first time we really enjoyed the view on the Valley.
I spent the day riding with Marc Butcher, and there is a short video of him below.
Amazingly, Marc has raised almost same fundraising target as other riders – he is over £1400. Marc first went on a tandem last December, and has improved immensely since then. This trip he has been strong throughout helping Dieter or me with his excellent legs. In fact, towards the beginning of yesterday tried, he was so strong while putting in a burst around a bend that we shattered the chain and the links went flying across the nearby fields. There is some slight exaggeration there, but we did break the chain, which was quickly repaired by our excellent team.
Having cycled in many countries and on every continent, I can assure you that the riding here in Austria is not amongst the most amazing scenery. In fact, it’s been a bit non-descript. Everything is “just so”. Pristinely managed – perfect road surfaces, carefully painted buildings, neatly trimmed greenery – but no imposing mountains, no incredibly beautiful villages. There have been a lot of smells. On the first day we were struck for a few minutes by a strong smell of strawberries, and it did look very much like a strawberry field. On another occasion, the less exciting smell of sewage. Cows have made their odorous mark on the trip, as well as or two other indecipherable smells.
The lowlight of the trip yesterday was when we came to the very end, stopped and I fell off the tandem. Fortunately, nothing more than a scraped knee, and Marc didn’t fall. The highlight of yesterday was when we finished the trip and Ted said “I have spent today with my friends”. This final photo is Warren, among other things a Langdon employer, with James, who works at Warren’s Company, and Marc.
Day two is completed and it was very tough. We had a number of different options available, although the first 85km were the same for everyone. This was mainly along the Danube, but as with yesterday, it was made quite challenging by the speed, the heat, and for the second half a really strong headwind – as soon as the trees between us and the river ended, we were just sitting in the blast. To quote somebody “wind is just a hill in gaseous form”. And insidiously invisible.
The toughest option included a further 80km, and two large climbs. Other riders went straight back to the hotel – merely another 40km. 125km is no mean feat, not least with this wind – especially as it was punctuated a very steep climb up to a castle. Your adventurous correspondent and his co-conspirator, Ted, headed off for the longer, hilly route with. We rode away from the river up into the hills overlooking the valley. The first climb was about 8km at an average of 7%. However, none of it was 7%. There were several sections which were almost flat and several sections which were 12% or even greater. This climb was tough in the heat, and we had to stop several times drink and eat. Nonetheless, Ted was very strong and we pushed on through, pausing close to the top to meet local cows and top up our water from the farmer. She’s in the picture with her dog.
I have to admit that Ted and I and a number of other riders decided the second climb was just a step too far, and headed back to the hotel. For a total of 135km with some fairly substantial climbing. I believe this is the longest day I’ve achieved on a tandem.
Ted is one of the Langdon Members living in Borehamwood, in the same area as Marc and James. The three of them have been on our regular training rides Sunday mornings, on the tandem and individual bikes. Ted works at Asda and also at All Aboard, a chain of charity shops.
Today was also a tale of accidents. Well, not really. In the grand scheme of things nothing to write home about. Although the astute among you will note that I am doing exactly that. I personally head butted a road sign, not intentionally, but when bending down to put something on the tandem, I didn’t realise the pillar it was leaning against had a large road sign sticking out. Which was slightly embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as one of our riders, Daniel Pollock from the Manchester contingent, who fell off his bike. It’s still not entirely clear why. We were our way towards the climb, riding slowly, and he just fell over. But he’s fine.
This year’s ride has a very large number of first-time riders, which is fantastic. I have heard some quite impressive stories of fundraising. The individual goal is £1500, but I have heard some people are over £5000 and a rumour that there is somebody over £10,000. Which is absolutely fantastic as Langdon needs everything it can get. The charity was set up to support those with learning disabilities – people who typically would fall through the gaps and not get the right care. For many years, local authorities funded the services that Langdon provides, but over the last few years, the overall economic situation means they have been cutting back, and those with less complex needs, are struggling to get funding. This doesn’t affect the current Members, but means it’s very hard for Langdon to look after the next generation who will need a similar service. Hence the organisation is driving strongly to increase voluntary funding and successful rides like this are good step.
Today’s ride started at the ungodly hour of 5am when we awoke to travel to the airport. An uneventful morning thanks to Uber and BA led us to a non-descript parking lot in Vienna airport. Most riders were reunited with their bikes, which had travelled down from London or Manchester in a van, and Dieter, Ted, Marc and I were introduced to our blue, dual seated steeds. As with all tandems, they weigh a tonne, but they do have good brakes. Which you need when going down steep hills with a combined mass of 200kg (well over 400lbs for my transatlantic readers). Although interestingly, they have an additional break at the back, a drum brake, with a special lever to operate it in the centre of the handlebar. Which makes no sense at all. When you are crashing down a hill far too fast, the last thing you are going to do is take your hands off the handlebars to reach an additional lever.
That said, hills were not today’s problem. The heat was pretty tough – touching 30° (sorry transatlantic folk, time to do some math), and we were on dark tarmac most the time, which emphasised the heat. And of course, there were substantial headwinds in the valley. You’ll discover from any cyclist you know that you often have a headwind, and other times you’re riding really strongly, but you never get a tailwind.
We are in the Danube Valley, the majestic river coursing through the centre of Europe, which has cut a wide and deep floodplain, therefore flat. We did have a lovely section alongside the river, crossing it a couple of times on interesting bridges. The final bridge we crossed included this access ramp. It looked really cool once we were on the ramp, watching the cyclists spiralling up around us.
We’ve now made it to the hotel, a rather nice Hilton on the banks of the river, and are about her down for dinner. Later, or tomorrow, I’ll blog a bit about the members – Ted, Marc, Richard, Mark, James – and Langdon carers – Kirsty and Diana – who are with us.