Friday, May 23, 2014

Time to ride again - The Route

Almost 2 years on from our first bikepacking trip across Spain, we are preparing for our next journey as  Bicigrinos (the Spanish term for pilgrim by bicycle).

Almost immediately after our last trip we dreamed of another, longer and more varied in terrain, landscape and culture(or maybe that should read food!)

In our post trip research we happened upon the Via Francigena route, an ancient route travelling from Canterbury, England to Rome, across France, Switzerland the Alps and down through Italy to arrive in Rome. The route was founded as a religious pilgrimage officially back in 990AD by Archbishop Sigeric who completed it by foot in around 80days, and later documented it as the route most traveled today.

The Route

Our planned route totals around 2000k, which we will cycle in around 28days. We will mainly stick to the official ancient route, taking trails, farm roads, and back roads, avoiding the highways and main roads. Taking the slow roads and trails while generally slower, are more enjoyable. Averaging around 70k per day, with 2 spare days up our sleeve with 1 planned rest day in Reims, France to enjoy some champagne!
Quite obvious from the route, is that we must pass the Alps, the journey takes us over the Great St Bernard Pass, a day of climbing for 45k, with the main climb 30.6k at 5.7%! should be fun on a fully loaded touring bike!

Col du Grand St Bernard

Overall the route is best described as lumpy, as seen by the profile below. Early France should be flatish, rolling through the north close to the border of Belgium, once we near the Alps it will become more hilly, and that will continue through most of Italy as we follow the Apennines for much of the time in Italy. Total climbing is estimated to be 22,000m

Profile over the entire journey

We have most of our gear ready, and our plans are in place, although loose! We have found the most enjoyable way to travel like this is to be flexible. We know by bike you can easily cover the distance, but things like weather can make some days much harder, so its best to keep your options open.
France will be the hardest part of the journey, with the economy not going well, particularly in the the smaller agricultural based towns will be almost closed down, with little food and accommodation available. Hopefully we survive this portion of the trip with spirits high as Italy should be a total contrast with plentiful food and accommodation.
Bike setup will be identical to last time, with our MTB hardtails setup with Freeload racks with rear panniers, we travel light as possible, staying in accommodation along the way, only needing a few changes of clothes and sleeping bags.

Rear rack with just a sleeping bag on top

Ready to load up, the triple ring is a must grinding 25kgs of bike and luggage up the hills

Front handlebar bag handing for quick access to pastries!
With just over a week to go until we fly out to London, we will roll out of Canterbury where our journey begins on Sunday the 8th of June, with a short few hours riding in the UK to Dover popping across the ferry to Calais.

Be sure to follow our travels right here.

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