The final cardiac blog – it is time.

It is 10 weeks since I joined the lifesaving, life altering, zipper club. I think to really understand the consequences you have to have experienced it first-hand.

Your life is not defined by your scars. To me, scars are part of the rich tapestry of life. Since the age of 18 I’ve worn a significant knee scar that has generated many questions and been a conversation opener.

Scar wise, my arm and chest scars are another badge of my life and what I’ve endured and worked through, and I am sure there will be many more conversations to be had.

The sternum scar over the top of where they use the bone saw to open your chest and retract it. The concept is pretty extraordinary really.
The arm is healing nicely too – I do get pain in my lower hand but massage it heaps.

I caught up with one of my dearest friends recently. Despite staying in touch heaps, we had not seen each other face to face for ages. She was really self-conscious about some scars on her face, courtesy of sun damage and skin cancer.

She had to point one out to me, and then, yes it was obvious, but I initially did not see it – because I love her and our enduring friendship, and that graft does not define her, or our relationship. It is part of her story and her life tapestry.

In my lifetime I have now had 15 general anesthetic operations (including a life saving ruptured appendix operation where I was given only 24 hours (without the surgery) to live due to the degree of gangrene and peritonitis) and 16 procedures done under twilight sedation, and I know I have more ahead with my knee needing a total knee replacement, plus two feet reconstructions. My fingers remain in my ears and I’m going la, la la for a bit longer. More scars!

I am glad I have been through what I have. Apart from being a necessity to continue living and not dropping dead, it has provided me with a lot of other benefits. I have met some wonderful people in the process. I have discovered more people than I ever realised cared about me and reached out to me.

With lots of spare time to think and reflect, it has also provided me with a very clear-headed reality check on other issues that are not within my power to fix alone. Therefore, I will stop trying (and/or hoping) and give myself peace and acceptance instead.

Myths and misconceptions:

There have been a few and let’s address them as they both rattled me at the time.

Firstly, it has been suggested that I have cardiovascular disease as a result of having the Covid vaccine. Seriously!?! The facts are I had been seeing my former cardiologist for some 16 years due to an incidental finding on a lung scan back then – and it was noted that there were what appeared to be, possibly external, calcifications. I still have a copy of the original letter that cardiologist wrote that said – this lady is highly unlikely to be a candidate for cardiovascular disease (due to my fitness).

Even googling that link, I have not been able to find one that possibly links an exacerbation to cardiovascular disease – other cardiac issues, yes I found articles, but not cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular disease does not just happen. It takes years and years of development, and mine totally predates covid even being known about. Mine has likely developed over 30-40 plus years.

There are risk factors you can control and have influence over, and others you cannot.

I currently weigh 67 kg, have a BMI of 21, have never smoked, do not drink alcohol except on rare occasions, have a total cholesterol of 2.8 (as of a few weeks ago – the bad cholesterol was 1.1) and low blood pressure. I passed all tests including ECG, echo and stress tests without issue – but passing those means nothing really if they can hide the fact that you have advanced coronary artery disease.

I cannot escape my extraordinarily strong cardiac family history and disposition or the fact that I’m post-menopausal.

It was also suggested I would need to start eating healthier. Anyone who is close enough to me and can witness firsthand what I do and do not eat will tell you I am very picky (except when bike touring – I experience the local cuisine to the max). I eat low carb and the only dietary change since my diagnosis is cheese – I eat it rarely now.

I chose to reduce my consumption of red meat a few years ago after being required to project manage departmental support for a local regional abattoir. I saw, heard and smelt things I never thought I would, and the look in the cows’ eyes as they waited to be ‘processed’ was sad and pitiful. Personal choice. It had a profound impact.

I think that my blood tests, weight, BMI, blood pressure etc is testimony to the fact that I do eat healthy. I did not get cardiovascular disease due to my diet (per the specialists). It was my genetic disposition tied in with being post-menopausal.

Kicking Goals

I have completed a fortnight of work – part time but last week worked over 30 hours. I start at around 4.50 am as my mental clarity is strongest between then and 9 am (drug cocktail time).

I have completed 36 financial assessments in the first fortnight and sorted out $10 million in messy budget reconciliations (a process that took a few of us two weeks last year). I am delighted that everything balanced, and I nailed it in half a day this year- my brain is working ok!

Going back to work is part of my overall rehab and readjusting to normal life.

I need to juggle my daily cardiac rehab with work and balance it with my recovery. First two weeks went ok and physically I am feeling ok. On weekdays I spend 3 hours a day doing cardiac rehab. Weekends are around 4 hours per day. I have added in stretching and some light weights as my arms have suffered badly with being fairly useless appendages for 10 weeks.

This weekend I have kicked some physical goals too. My first cycling goal was to enter and finish the Trek 70 km Saturday event (with 5 climbs). I did it! Whoot woo – and got a great reception upon my return.

Today I rode 100 km – that was my second goal.

Both of these goals were riding on Zwift – not out on the road – as I still have sternal precautions in place but look forward to some cafe coffee cruises soon enough.

At the current rate, I am doing just over 500 km per week cycling – at week 10 – that is pretty cool and a huge confidence boost. As a comparison, I was doing around 1000 km per week pre surgery at 2.5-3.0 watts per kg. Currently I am pushing around 2.0 watts per kg.

I have written an article on using Zwift as a possible adjunct cardiac rehab therapy – Dr Ash is looking at using it for a medical journal article and for patients who have the capacity for ‘fast tracking’ rehab.

I have also established a Zwift Facebook support group for cardiac patients – and there are 48 members currently. One of those, a 35-year-old male had open heart surgery last week in Germany and we will watch his rehab with interest, as he purchased a recumbent bike to use on Zwift.

Goals

We will cycle tour again – in 2023. Subject to suitable travel insurance (as our current insurers will no longer insure me) I think I have found one that will – established for “seniors” (a concept I still have difficulty with at 60!) and will cover cardiovascular, cancer and a range of other preexisting medical conditions. Mind you, I think I am a far lower risk now than I was in May when I rode 3000 km in Europe with my ticking time bomb.

I have multiple maps in progress with a range of countries and ideas – the world is our oyster. We have toyed with redoing LeJog (UK), loops out of Paris or Amsterdam or Switzerland or Rome or Milan and so on! We will nail it and I look forward to sharing those blogs in 2023.

Thankyou

How can you thank the team that saved your life? I will be forever indebted to Dr Stephen Broadhurst (radiologist), Dr Nikhil Pal (cardiologist), Dr Ash Hardikar (cardiothoracic surgeon), Dr Katja Brede (anaesthetist) and their wonderful additional support and surgical teams for diagnosing me and their parts in saving my life – for giving me another chance to be a better version of me. To the nursing, medical, ancillary, catering and orderly staff at Calvary ICU and surgical ward and Erin my cardiac rehab nurse – thank you for your part in caring for me. To friends including Paul and Shaun for their professional support and knowledge.

The only man to have truly touched my heart – Dr Ash Hardikar.
The message Ash sent me which I read and re-read to assure myself I am going ok.

The best way I can thank them all is to live my life to the fullest. I still have cardiovascular disease – there is no cure. I have rerouted cardiac plumbing that will require monitoring and maintenance for life – but that is a small price to pay for the privilege of living longer and having a heart receiving it’s proper quota of blood.

To my friends, family, work colleagues, neighbours, Trek, Zwift Australia and my extended Zwift family who chose to support me with visits, phone calls, texts, emails, sending cards, get well gifts, cooking food and hampers thank you. Your thoughtfulness at what was a horrific shock in my life has been very much appreciated.

To the 10,000 views of my blog on my website – wow! That just blows me away. 1800 views of my first blog alone! What started out with me a huge emotional mess to the strong and positive person I am today has been a massive journey and transformation.

Hugest thanks to Tony – for his love and support through this journey – as he has worried heaps. We are a team and we will continue to have exciting adventures – hopefully well away from hospitals!!

Final words

This is to be my last cardiac blog – I think lol…..I feel that I am at a point now where gains will be marginal rather than some of the quantum leaps I have made.

I am proud of me. I have always had a strong work ethic that I credit to Professor Bernie Einoder, the man who initially reconstructed my knee at age 18. He told me that I would get out of rehab what I put into it – I worked hard – 3 hours per days for 6 months. It took me 2 years to walk without a perceptible limp – and I have just reapplied those same ethics this time around.

I applied that work ethic post my ruptured appendix in 1999- that was around a 3-month recovery from the damage the toxins had done to my body.

At 10 weeks post having your chest cavity sawn open, your lung collapsed, heart stopped and placed onto a heart lung bypass machine, having three grafts stitched on, having your heart restarted, having your chest wired and pulled together – being able to ride 100 km is a pure gift of joy and way ahead of when I thought it might be possible. My first ride was in week 3 and was for only a few km.

The best reason to keep living. My two darling grandkids – I get to see them grow up a bit more.

Two weeks ago, Sienna turned 4 – yes I am in my dressing gown still.

Hugs and love to all those who have been a positive influence in my journey – it is not over, I will continue to evolve and grow with loving thanks to you all.

Eternally grateful – Sharron xxx

No Assholes Policy

Bit dramatic? Bit offensive? Build a bridge….I’ve been a bit flatter the last few days and it made me smile.

I’ve plagiarised the title from Trek. I’ll get to that! Just thought it was a great headline grabber after reading it in their book this week.

I’ve had an interesting fortnight since my last blog. Not all a bed of roses as this rehab gig can be ‘a cranky bitch’ a phrase coined by an old high school friend Wendy earlier today.

I am making solid progress physically, building up to 5.5 km daily walks, and today 78 minutes sitting upright on my bike on Zwift. My walks are great along the banks of the Forth River and our lovely beach here in Turners Beach. Some recent photos.

Part of the new coastal bike path being constructed. This path will turn to the east and cross over the Forth River and head to Leith. It is a very exciting development locally.
The Forth River, looking towards the mouth, Leith on the eastern shore.
Our beach, looking east, low tide, towards the Forth River mouth, Leith on the eastern shore.
Tony and Khaleesi, low tide, river mouth
A great long beach at lower tides, looking east. This aspect is only a few hundred metres from our home.
Looking west towards Ulverstone with Table Cape in the far distance

I saw my cardiologist who described my progress as way ahead of others similar age and stage. I think that is the benefit of my pre surgery fitness.

Tiredness and emotional fragility and residual aches and pains are my main gripes. Lack of concentration and poor memory too.

He tweaked my medications a little more beyond my cardio thoracic surgeon, to try and reduce the brain fog and dizziness a bit more. I have been tracking my blood pressure daily and it is consistently low, around 90/70.

In discussion with him and my cardiac rehab nurse Erin, I have started to decrease the walking and increase the Zwift cycling. My knee (advanced osteoarthritis, bone on bone) is playing up and not coping well now with the 38-40 km walking per week. I cannot not see the point in taking Celebrex just to walk an hour when I have an alternative cardiac option in my garage.

I am well overdue for my total knee replacement, and seriously, I am not in the right mental state to have that any time soon.

So I will reduce weight bearing exercise and increase non weight bearing. Sensible but then there is my bum! I still have to sit upright (ie not putting hands on the handle bars)

It hurts sitting up for long periods. We tried a recumbent option with a chair but less power output again vs bum pain….🙈😳

Concurrently with this issue I was feeling guilty that I was letting Trek down. I am a Zwift Trek Ambassador in Australia and leader backup the weekly Trek ride on Saturday. A 70 km, 5 hill climb event.

I had a chat with Trek’s Aaron who reassured me that Trek invest in people, all was good, and they’d help me however needed.

That led to a discussion on my bum discomfort and he told me he’d post me a saddle from an ebike, designed for more upright pedalling.

Boom. A parcel arrived with a bonus, socks and a Trek book.

The saddle is heaps better, tilted back. I can tolerate a longer time in the saddle.

The broader saddle is much better for being seated upright, no arms policy. Once I am able to weight bear through the arms I will likely swap back, and retilt the saddle forward.

The Trek book! Somewhat of a history book on Trek but also their business philosophies. I do love this particular business lesson : we love our customers and employees and work with some of the best people in the world. But we don’t works with assholes.

I think most of us can relate to investing far too much time with people like Tom in the story above. I try hard with many people and I need to learn to turn away from the very few Tom’s in my life.

Here is a much butt happier Sharron, courtesy of Trek.

In other news, I am a very goal oriented person. If I do not have goals, I tend to flounder. Two have been set in the last fortnight.

Firstly, we have booked to travel to Norfolk Island during our Christmas break for one week. Norfolk Island is a territory of Australia about 2.5 hours flying time east of Sydney.

There is a strong family connection as my great great…..grandmother was born there. A great story for another day.

The second goal. We are starting to scope a bike packing cycle tour. It will be impossible for me to get travel insurance now to include cardiac (silly as I am far far less risk than I was in May). We will go to countries where Australia has a bilateral health agreement. There are 11 such countries.

Again, another story, another day.

Thanks for everyone who has been in touch in the last fortnight. Your continuing encouragement is so very welcomed as some days are tougher than others.

The messages on Zwift, strava, Facebook and texts are so gratefully received. Your encouragement and care is not taken for granted and I am very humbled that you take the time. ❣️

Hugs ❣️

Baby steps, one week down.

One week down. It’s been a journey for sure, and not one I would recommend. I joke and say as an experience on Trip Advisor, open heart surgery rates no stars.

After my surgery last Friday I spent 4 nights in ICU. A very humbling experience. I was in bay one for two nights then the isolation room for the next two.

ICU has a series of open bays separated by curtains with a central area for medical and nursing staff where they have a clear view of all, except the isolation room. Sounds like the name for one of those group games where you try and escape, the panic room?

I was placed in the isolation room because one of my surgical team tested positive for covid. No visitors allowed whilst they awaited my pcr results, which seemed very slow for something tagged urgent.

The room was quiet. ICU is a noisy place with an array of monitors bleeping and lots chatter. The room gave me peace. No extra sleep though! Solid sleep evaded me. Getting comfortable a seemingly impossible art.

Once my negative covid test came back my door could be opened, and I took this photo carefully as just to the right is a fully intubated older lady. I watch the staff working on her and caring for her. She can’t move as she is on a ventilator. I realise that the same dedication they are showing her, was given to me just a few days before. I became emotional with gratitude. It is very humbling to watch their care, dedication, professionalism and empathy.

Isolation room, ICU

I’ve been quite emotional. Ups and downs. Feeling a bit better, then miserable over anything and everything. I gather that is quite normal for this stage. Cardiac blues.

I am eating again although appetite wanes from day to day. I am drinking heaps in particular coconut water, per my surgeons request ( potassium for the heart). I’ve lost a few kg.

I am walking. I have seen the physiotherapist daily and my exercises have increased. I can now do 5 x 100 m plus walks with a few of those having some stairs.

It is hard work and I huff and puff and have a heart rate far higher than pre surgery for the same exercise. Maybe 35 bpm difference, but that will improve.

I still blow into the ball contraption and can keep up higher for longer. The third ball has started to move a tad.

I have had some sleep the last two nights. Drug induced but at least I’ve slept. I could feel my body relaxing whereas before it was a constant battle.

My temperature has abated after many days and night sweats.

Perhaps my funniest experience (Only funny thing? Not the kind of place you come looking for comedy), was my final night in ICU

I thought I’d try my solo endeavours out . Midnight and I needed to pee. I was attached to the dvt machine that pumps air around your legs. I was also attached to a blood pressure machine and cuff.

I unwrapped the dvt leggings as they were velcros and easier than disconnecting the cables as I cannot use my arm strength. I disconnected the blood pressure cable and removed the cuff. I did my thing.

I came back to bed and all three items had inflated to their max and I could not put them back on. Dang, cuss, curse….what to do? Only option was to press the buzzer and fess up. Yes, I got the lecture I knew was coming and I sat there and nodded….but 🙈😳🤣

Stubborn Sharron was a good sign though that I was on my way back.

In addition to the wonderful medical, nursing, ancillary and support staff including the lovely orderlies and catering staff, I’ve regularly face timed Tony and Hannah, visits from Joshua and Kimberley, messages from two sons in Europe plus heaps of texts and pm’s. Thankyou all.

Covid issues have meant minimal visitations plus when in isolation none. It’s not easy.

Correspondence has taken time and I’m a bit slow as I get tired easily and quickly.

I received a surprise bunch of flowers, card and home made soup from Sam from Bendigo ( a Zwift friend) who had her Hobart based son drop it off (and he had made the soup himself). I was very touched.

Home time is tomorrow. I’ve passed my various tests ( blood, X-ray) and the pharmacist has a pack of drugs ready for me. My iron levels are low and I need to work on them. The word prunes was mentioned 😳

I will not miss the heparin injections into my bruised pin cushion tummy, or the rubber mattress and pillows. I look forward to being in my own home and moving around it, having a warm shower in a warm bathroom.

The home bound trip will take a while. 330 km but to be back home with Tony and Khaleesi will be a delight as I continue on my rehab recovery journey.

Reality check here though readers. My aim in telling my story is to have you avoid what I’m going through. This is the vivid, harsh reality. One can deny it all they like or try and turn a blind eye but….every picture tells a story.

Artery removed from my left arm
The incision. Below this there are a series of stitches from drains etc, plus I have a bandage on my neck still.

I understand the chest scar may confront some. But this is the way they get into your heart for coronary artery bypass grafts. They cut through your sternum bones, pull the bones all back and do their thing! No escaping it.

Get that check!!

To finish with a brighter photo, this is me 530 am Saturday, Day 8. I think Sharron 2.0 is starting to come back to life.

I have a bit of eyebrow missing. My only explanation is maybe there was tape there during surgery and some eyebrow hair removed with the tape. I look at this photo and I can smile and see me in there 💕😊💐xx

Taking life for granted

I’m starting up a new topic here on my blog as it seems I cannot ride for a while.

My family history with heart disease is significant. My maternal grand father died from cardiac issues aged 49.

My father had a five way bypass aged 51, my mother a three way bypass aged about 53.

I turned 60 a few weeks ago.

About 15 years ago calcifications were noted on my left coronary artery. An incidental finding from a lung imaging test. I saw an interventional cardiologist who said ‘you look too healthy, keep cholesterol low and goodbye”.

For 14 years I had tests every two years with a Launceston cardiologist. The stress test I treated as a personal challenge. I would ask what I scored last time, ensure I went further, and would be told that I was the fittest patient he’d had in six months.

I decided to change cardiologists. Good move.

After pushing to have a cardiac angiogram, where they use a contrasting dye, I have received news that has shocked me.

I have advanced coronary artery disease. They are in bad shape.

The radiologist was a gem. He rang me tonight and talked to me for over 30 minutes. He told me he knew me. He is a zwifter and rode in an event I was leading last week.

He has met with my cardiologist and they reviewed my results together this afternoon . There is a plan it seems.

Before I got this news, I hopped onto my bike and started peddling. The cardiologists rooms rang and told me to get off the bike. I cannot raise my heart rate.

This news stresses my heart. Exercise is my self treatment for anxiety.

Right now my health is number one. I need to nail this!!

I intend to diarise my journey. Not for sympathy but to encourage others to get this test, and to watch my rehab as encouragement.

Tony and I purchased our grave plot only two months ago. I do not intend to use it yet, and hope that the planned treatment is swift and successful.

The crazy part about this test is that there is no Medicare rebate unless you have chest pain. I have had no chest pain. I have no shortness of breathe. Yet the test has shown results that left untreated will kill me before I am ready to check out.

My motivation for this test was another zwifter, Andrew S. A fit and healthy guy who was heading to Scandinavia to ride, but collapsed whilst talking to his wife in the kitchen. She saved him with cpr and a few days later he had open heart surgery. Two months later he is back zwifting, and I note today rode 50 km.

He told me after his cardiac arrest, get this test given my family history.

I did and now I face major treatment fairly shortly that will hopefully save me before I have a significant cardiac event.

I am scared. I am motivated too as I have a long bucket list.

Get you heart checked out!

Love and hugs

Xxx

What’s in the bag?

I have often been asked, what’s in my bags. Yes we travel as minimally as possible. When you have to cart your gear 3000 km you look critically at everything.

Certainly there are non negotiable items clothing wise, first aid, medicines, tools and spare bike parts. You need casual clothes for evenings. You need cycling clothes for rain, cold and warm conditions.

Here are our two bikes just as we arrived back at my sons place in Switzerland, 3000 km later.

The set up with the two bikes is similar, bar the two small front panniers on Tony’s bike. In addition, his bike is bigger and therefore he has a larger rear post bag

Here I am leaving accomodation ready to pack the bike. Three bags in hand. You need to be able to cart your gear to and from your bike easily,

I am carrying my front handle bar bag, my rear tube saddle bag plus a stuff bag with all the odds and ends that have a specific home on the bike.

Storage choices. You have seen two bags above. I also have two bags on my top tube. The smaller upright one plus the hanging lower and longer one.

So let’s see what I have all spread out on the floor.

In more detail. The rear saddle bag is basically everything I hope I do not need during the day riding. In the bag you would find….long leg bib and brace for cold weather riding, a thermal long sleeve top, a second short leg bib and brace kit, spare short sleeve jersey, a pair woollen cycling socks wet weather, yak wool beanie and snood, a casual dress, a long leg casual outfit, yak wool casual top, nightie, spare underwear and medicines and toiletries (except ventolin), tens machine ( for our backs, could be considered non essential but given our back history very handy as you can ride and use it simultaneously).

Strapped to the top of the bag are my casual sandals, neoprene over booties and my gilet (indicating that it was hot when this photo was taken).

The front bag has stuff that I may need during the day. It has our first aid kit, a teaspoon (very handy at times), safety pins ( useful if zips break), a nail file (also very handy at times for all things not involving nails), long sleeve warm jacket, arm warmers, passports, vaccination certificates, travel insurance info, food, rear derailleur hangers (never leave home without spares),biro, my iPad, masks, small torch, shopping bag, hair bands and small hairbrush, bike lock, tyre pressure gauge, spare fully charged etap battery, drink tablets….

On top is a map pocket which I use for sunscreen, hand sanitiser and tissues.

The top tube bag has my purse (debit card, credit card emergency, cash- in this case euro and Swiss francs), lip balm and ventolin.

I have exercise induced asthma and part of my asthma management is ventolin regularly during the day as I ride. I also take Symbicort twice daily for asthma. Well managed my asthma is rarely problematic. If I get a cold etc, it can be problematic.

I also need to carry an epilepsy drug having complex partial seizures at various intervals since I was 20 (but only diagnosed by a neurologist 5 years ago).

This is Wags, my sons dog, very keen to check my gear out.

The hanging longer top tube bag opens both sides. The larger area contains my rain coat and rain cap.

The smaller pocket contains a battery pack (to charge the Hammerhead gps bike computer if the battery gets low), and my stuff bag (used to transport loose items to and from our accomodation). Spare food is sometimes stored there too.

I also have an internal tube storage area under a bidon holder. It is really nifty and we stored 3 x rat test kits there. I intend to find long skinny bags for our first aid kit for the future to place in the tube.

The extra bags on Tony’s bike has his spare tubes (my wheels are tubeless), plus our two lightweight down jackets ( they stuff down very small), some tools and spare parts (brake pads, derailleur hangers etc).

We choose to travel light. Most touring cyclists we see travel with more gear and bags. Many also carry tents and sleeping bags.

This works for us. We do intend to replace our rear seat post bags with a newer Tailfin setup for our next trip. Not cheap ($1400-$1500 for the two bikes) but the benefit is the weight is not hanging off the seat post being mounted to the rear axle.

I think that about covers it. This setup and gear replicates what we carried for 35 days in central and Western Europe in 2019 and we’ve not made any major changes for this trip (26 days riding).

We get to the luggage collection carousels post trip and are quite bemused by the number of suitcases many travel with. Yes, we keep wearing the same gear, no it does it bother us, yes we launder cycling kits daily, and casual clothes regularly.

Itchy feet

What do you do after an epic bike tour? You get back in your bike of course, even for a shorter 48 km or so.

Itchy feet, waiting for the rain to ease and we went off on an exploratory ride to check out both sides of the Rhine and its villages.

Our route, Germany to the left, Switzerland to the right.
Borrowed photo showing Bad Sackingen from the Swiss side of the Rhine River up from the long wooden bridge.

Bad Sackingen was coming to life. A market was setting up, looking like lots of fresh produce.

Adjacent to the river is Gallasturm dating from 1343.

The river looks calm as the clouds start to lift.

We call this guy Lewis, after a character in Suits.

Laufenburg was our first bigger village, and we were on the German side at this point. On the other side of the bridge lies Laufenburg Switzerland.

The same name is not by accident as the two were the one town. In the early 19th century, Napoleon divided the town, with a bridge linking the two.

Below is our picture and following is one from 1896. Much remains the same.

2022, the German side
1896 German and Swiss sides
The bridge from the German side, Switzerland just metres away
The Swiss side
Both sides
As we left the German Laufenburg, looking back into town

We continued riding along the German side of the Rhine

We crossed over onto a largish island in the middle of the Rhine that you can see on our route map below. The trail is all dirt and our bikes are now filthy. We have mud up along our bottoms as it flicks up off the rear wheel.

Lots of fish in the Rhine including a very large 3 metre variety.

Leaving the island and returning to Switzerland we enter the Swiss Laufenburg and find a place to grab a coffee and some breakfast. Lovely spot and we hope to sneak a return visit in on Monday, the same day we fly out to Australia late in the evening.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe, smile on 😊

Finished our blockie

I always have a tendency to feel somewhat melancholy on the last day of a cycle tour. You out so much time and effort into organising it (research, mapping, coordinating accomodation, blogs).

Then there is the actual having to ride it, the physical and mental challenge. Setting out at aged 60 (very close) and 61 to ride 3000 km is something that not many have the desire or capability to achieve.

You get an array of comments, and for those who take the time to write positive comments via the blog page or fb we are appreciative. The support and encouragement of your words is acknowledged and not taken for granted.

There are many who ‘like’ the blog without actually reading it (easy to tell….as the number of likes on two fb pages versus actual number of reads is significantly different).

But to those who do reach out, our gratitude and thanks.

So after our breakfast we left Luzern during peak hour traffic, and once clear of the city found ourselves in the burbs.

Shortly thereafter we were back riding in agricultural fields of wheat, corn, potatoes and poppies. Looking back there were the mountains again. Lovely vista.

Rothenburg was a pretty town we rode through.

Then we passed Lake Sempach.

The final mountain views, until next time

We saw this Trek sign in a village. Being a Trek Ambassador in Australia, I thought I’d grab this photo for my Instagram account, where all things Trek are tagged.

We had no time pressures today. We only needed to ride about 75 km to finish, and we had told my son Ben we would arrive after 3 pm, trying to fit in with his work meetings.

We planned to sit in Aarau for a while. The weather was lovely, and we had a fruit smoothie each after wandering around the town. Note the paintings under the eaves.

A very pretty town, that is the capital of the northern Swiss canton of Aargau. It is located on the Aare River, and also the southern foot of the Jura Mountains as we were about to discover.

We ended up moving on sooner than planned as we realised we had a lumpsch to get over, and we both preferred warmer legs. It was nearly 4 km long at an average of 6.8% with pinches of around 11-12%.

It was warm climbing and when we got to,the top we discovered it had a name. Staffelegg Pass at 621 m altitude is one of the lowest Jura mountain passes and is surrounded by Wasserflue and Gisiflie, popular hikes.

I saw these signs though and laughed and twisted a bit, how I was thinking.

There was a bus shelter at the top of the climb that we sat in as it had just started to spit with rain. Checking the Swiss rain radar site, we could see the band moving towards Basel and knew we were likely to get more rain.

So we kept moving, stopping at a CoOp in Frick to grab an iced coffee and sushi.

About 8 km later, we made it back to Ben’s including his 14.4% pinch up his road. Accomodation is always at the top of a climb😳

So here we are. Done and dusted bar some short rides we will do in the area before our departure home on Monday night.

I could not do this without my partner in crime, Tony. He looks after all my mechanical ‘stuff’, takes the photos, and engages in lively navigational debate at times.

Doing a trip such as this, you see each other tested fully both physically and mentally. We survived each other and we both gain a greater appreciation and respect for each other as we know what each other goes through.

Time to celebrate some say. Think we’ve only had one ever finishing a tour, and that was LeJog where a group of partners got to John O’Groats ahead of us and cheered us all on, giving us champagne.

Oh actually, same tour company at the ends of London to Venice greeted us with champagne too.

This time, we shared this! Sandra gave it to us last night. 💕

Someone was pleased to see us!

There will be a few more blog posts yet as we will do some small rides whilst Ben sleeps weather permitting. Plus I have promised others to cover a few topics including…..what’s in the bags so stay tuned.

Could this be my new number one ride ever?

We are staying in a hotel with a Peruvian theme….restaurant and staff. I would not recommend it, poor quality mattress that has one of those rubber sheets like you put in your children’s bed when first toilet training at night, that makes you sweat.

Breakfast was a mess, made worse by a power failure in the dining room and an incredible influx of a tourist group. Food handling techniques were poor to non existent, no hand sanitiser in sight.

We ended up grabbing our breakfast and relocating to an adjacent room that had no one in it.

The rain radar contradicted the weather forecast that said it was going to rain. I could not see that the rain would hit the area, so we took off to ride down to the far end of Lake Luzern to Fluelen 51 km away, planning to return by the ferry.

We grabbed our bikes and made our way out of Luzern through the peak hour traffic. We had some 20 km of more suburbian like riding to do through a series of built up areas, but some nice vistas from the lake promenades.

Looking back to Luzern the clouds are still very low, mountains high in the clouds.
Very still and peaceful
So peaceful, the swan sleeps
Adam and Eve are very still too, well we presumed it was them as the girl does hold an apple.

We cut across a couple of sections of land turning away from the lake.

Returning to the lake and various sculptures and water features.

Just chilling.

The skies were lifting, and we could gradually see more

Blue sky trying to make an appearance
We liked how the boat ‘just’ fitted into the boat house.

The further down the lake we went, the better the scenery got.

The lake weaves around, with varying headlands jutting out, on both sides, creating narrow passages looking reminiscent of fjords. We are heading towards those snow capped mountains.

When you head up hill from Brunnen there is a sign saying the road ahead is dangerous and that it is recommended you catch the train or ferry. I have never seen such a sign before and we were like ‘eek’.

However very quickly we realised that this was not the case and that cyclists and walkers were very safely accommodated.

The last section of the lake, riding from Brunnen to Fluelen is the best section of riding scenery and infrastructure wise.

Getting to those mountains was an engineering masterpiece. We rode through multiple tunnels. Some were newer two lane tunnels, with a raised broad footpath for bikes and walkers. Others were older tunnels adjacent to newer ones for cars. The older tunnels were just for cycles and walkers. We must have ridden through nearly one km worth all up.

In other places the sides were open with a cycle track to the side.

What a view
Cycling through one of the tunnels where you can see two car lanes, and the raised pathway for bikes and walkers.

The closer we got to Fluelen the more amazing the scenery became.

An older rock road and tunnel ahead now used for cyclists and walkers.
Just beautiful

As we rode the last section of lake, we could see the ferry criss crossing the lake to various villages. We arrived at the ferry terminal 10 minutes before it was due to arrive and leave.The ferry departed hourly and the return trip took 3 hours.

As it was approaching 1 pm we decided to catch this ferry rather than explore further. The weather was lovely now, sun shining so it promised to be a great trip back. It cost a total of 112 Swiss francs (about Aud $185) including 16 Swiss francs for the bikes.

We found ourselves a great outdoor seat at the rear of the ferry looking backwards, so that we could savour the view of the mountains for as long as we could.

Church in Fleulen
Look closely at this photo and you can see the open cut road and where the tunnels are that we rode through.
Another section we had ridden where the road goes across various gorges and crevices

The closer we got to Luzern the clouds came rolling in, like some great performance on stage, the curtains were closing. It was a magnificent performance and one that we would long remember.

This ride rates. If you are a cyclist and heading this way we can recommend the route. A shorter option would be to get the ferry to Vitznau and ride from there.

The day held another highlight, as we had dinner with friends Sandra and Rolf, friends I met in the Maldives in 1985. I have had a few catch ups in recent years, but not since 2019 due to not being able to travel.

We had a lovely meal at a local Swiss restaurant and I do so value our friendship lasting so many years.

The photo is a little blurry but the quality of the friendship is not. 💕

Well another day has gone, and tomorrow we ride back to where we started 3.5 weeks ago.

Thank you for reading, stay safe, smile on 😊

The hills are alive….

…with the sound of music..? It looks like that in the photo below. You think maybe Julie Andrew’s is about to start singing?

I really like the next two photos. Bidding the three mountains farewell with the promise of a half decent looking day.

Alas the rain radar told a different story. We had watched it and knew without doubt that the band of rain was too big to miss Switzerland and we were bang smack in the middle. We had the morning though!

I took one last look up the valley and then turned my back. Maybe I will see these three again. It had been 35 years since my first visit and let’s hope a lot less until my next.

We headed straight into Interlaken as we needed to cross the river and ride down the ‘other’ lake side towards Brienz. We knew from our return bike ride yesterday that it was a good road and we would start with a couple of shorter climbs.

We stopped a few times on our way to Brienz as the lake was magical.

We turned left at Brienz, and again there were Swiss Airforce planes busy with their low altitude flights. Yesterday we had seen and heard many flyovers. I have since learned that the main airbase for the Swiss airforce is just a few km away at Meirengen.

There is a single runway and a series of large caverns in the adjacent mountain where the aircraft and ammunition is stored. You can drive the plane right though and out another cavern opening.

Then we climbed. The graph below shows the nasty one. As far as climbs go, on a loaded bike, we both felt this was tough. Not as long as say climbing to Les Gets in France last week, but steeper and pinchier. There were extended periods of 9-13% plus gradient.

There was no verge at all. There were many sections of no side barrier and long drop offs. I moved further out into the lane in those sections as one mistake by me, or the lightest tap by a car and life was over.

The vehicles were in abundance and would have difficulty overtaking due to the oncoming traffic.

It’s a hard place to stop when pushing 9-13% plus as you need to be able to twist your shoes out of their cleats and then re cleat to start again on a steeper slope. That is hard to do and keep your balance. Well it is for me.

On some left bends there was a little excess on the right hand side so I would move over there and jump off and wait. They were all very patient and highlights the huge difference riding here vs Australia. Not one car horn today.

Tony took a few photos climbing.

The first road climb was below, we joined a T junction a little higher where we merged with vehicles coming out of a tunnel who were also going up Brunig Pass
Waterfall in the far valley. I could hear a helicopter the whole climb from somewhere down there.
Tony waiting in one of those left bend, right hand bays
Still climbing

We often stop for a breather at the top of climbs and Brunig Pass had a cafe restaurant. So we stopped and had a hot chocolate (do it yourself version, as we were presented with a mug of warm milk and a sachet) and I ordered ‘something’ to eat. My German comprehension is far less than my French and she said croissant, and something else that sounded like mousse. I ordered the latter.

Mistake. Awful. It was like a five day old dried out sausage roll, with thick dry pastry that was inedible filled with stuff that almost looked like a sausage roll but sweeter. I got a spoon and scraped it out to eat leaving the thick pastry that you could use as a weapon.

Also turns out the cafe is 10 metres ascent short of the top of climb so our legs did protest after a break. Brunig Pass boasts a bus and train station and a few other eating places. Then it was into the descent, which included a few areas of roadworks.

We stopped here to look at the view of this lake, Lungerersee. The town you can see is Lungern.it was super picturesque.

Down in Lungern we stopped at a small supermarket and grabbed a bottle of Perrier to refill our bidons.

Church in Lungern
Lungerersee from the Luzern end

The weather is closing in and the blue sky has gone. The next lake we ride past is Sarnersee.

Lake Luzern (Lucerne) twists a lot. Our approach is from the south. 10 km out we don our rain jackets as there are a few spits. Can we get there without getting wet? Looking less likely as it is raining over Mt Pilatus.

Earlier view Lake Luzern

5 km to go, it rained. Just a steady downpour. We went direct to our accomodation despite being 1.45 hours too early. The young guy said we could come back in one hour….and we discussed the bike storage. That took 15 minutes as he conferred with his grumpy boss.

The boss said they could go outside in the rain. I looked at the spot and said no reminding him that when I made the booking I was advised they could store our bikes safely and securely. Back to the grumpy boss. Voices raised and the grumpy one came out and eye balled me, saying something…..but not one bit of warmth in his eyes or voice.

The young lad took me down one level in the lift where they store all kinds of stuff. Perfect storage! So now only 45 minutes to kill in the drizzle.

Around the corner we found a cafe and ordered some lunch. We ate slowly. We ordered more hot drinks. Voila, 45 minutes had passed.

Stored the bikes, showered and washed our clothes. Hanging the clothes out windows today was doomed to failure. This is our laundry set up here.

The fan oscillates but we needed extra height to get the clothes hanging from the shower rail hence it is sitting on the toilet. We turned the knobs on the wall heater but it took ages to get a tad of heat.

The rain had eased so we headed off to wander around the city. Some lovely buildings, statues and fountains.

The old bridge first erected in the 14th century, similar in age and length to the one on Bad Sackingen I posted early on when we first arrived.

We popped into a few bike stores whilst wandering as we needed some chain lube. In this store was an ex- pat from the USA who has lived in Switzerland over 20 years. He was impressed we had cycled Brunig Pass loaded, and told us in his younger years he used to skateboard down it 😳 I was thinking of those open drops…..

He had this steel bike custom made locally and had it treated to look old and rusty much to the disappointment of the manufacturer. He has since had a motor added so he now rides it 20 km to and from work.

Another day has gone. A shorter one at just under 80 km. We have two nights here too, as a second day of free choice. We have mapped out a ride to the far end of the lake to Fluelin, and a ferry ride back.

We need to check ferry schedules and the weather forecast is not brilliant. We do have options of stopping earlier at other ferry locations.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe, smile on 😊

Recovery day, the Yaxley way…..

Today was our first scheduled rest day, or potential rest day. Two nights in Wilderswil.

There were pre planned potential options:

  • Grosse Scheidegg high altitude loop ride (80 km, 2000m ascent);
  • Figure 8 loop ride of Thunersee and Brienzersee;
  • Circular loop ride Brienzersee;
  • Jungfraujoch excursion;
  • Diddly squat.

The weather ruled out option 1 and 4. Rain was forecast and by the time we returned from breakfast we could no longer see the Eiger, Monch or Jungfrau. We still cannot.

Grosse Scheidegg ride would be awesome but at around 1600 metres elevation pointless in such weather and risky. Safety first.

Diddly squat was never an option ba ha ha, perish the thought. When we did the supported rides with an English based business, there were rest days scheduled on three of the four trips we did.

It drove us nuts! On the third occasion we instead took off and climbed SuperBagneres overlooking Luchon close to the Spanish border.

Option 2 was ruled out as it was likely we would end up wet, and besides, we were in Thun yesterday.

Option three won, a circular loop of Brienzersee. Our thought process was a chillaxed ride, no pushing it.

Off we headed with a lot less gear in our bike, but the wet weather gear was with us. We rolled down the hill into the village.

At the bottom of the hill from our accomodation

Within two km we were in outer Interlaken, skirting around the outside on a busy arterial road.

The first view of the lake was of the ferry coming into dock.

We were not on the road very long, and we deviated onto the bike path that was well signposted. There were great views.

Then we had to climb, and descend steeply into historical Iseltwald.

The ferry on its way back up the lake to Brienze

The bike trail was interesting. It was very steep in parts with a. A maximum of 15.5% recorded with one section over 10%for far far too long.

We could hear what sounded like a bugle playing. Very loud and clear. I joked that it was ‘the last post’ as we were working hard on what was meant to be a chilled ride.

There was a sharp right hand turn and I needed a new cycling kit as a bus was rounding the narrow corner and playing its bugle sound at very loud decibels.

Those first two climbs are nasty pinches

As the path flattened out, we were passed by a young lady on a time trial bike, pushing limited gearing with very low cadence and sporting flash carbon wheels.

About five minutes later we caught her as the track turned to gravel and she asked Tony if we knew when the track would return to sealed. We did not know the answer.

There were some steep gravelly descents and we both walked our bikes down. We then arrived at Giessbach Falls, and I recognised them from a ride I did in the opposite direction in 2019.

There is a large hotel that can be reached from the water via a furnicular.

There are a total of 14 tiers.

After walking down from the falls, the bike path returned to sealed. Making our way towards the end of the lake, there were lovely views across the lake.

This is looking to where we need to head tomorrow as we make our way to Luzern.

We had originally planned to stop for coffee in the town of Brienze, but noted the growing clouds over Interlaken. I did like these two carved figures on the side of the road. There are some very clever people around.

The yellow bike below is Swiss Post doing deliveries. We have seen lots of these buzzing around in various towns.

More carvings.

Statues too.

We were then on the open road all the way back to Interlaken. Note the growing cloud cover. We had a beautiful lake view, and confirmed that tomorrow we would ride out on this lake side. There is a descent into Interlaken but that climb is far preferable to the bitchy pinches on the other shore.

In Interlaken we rode around trying to find a bike shop. We have seen so many on our trip and now we want one, the ones we did find were closed. Tony wanted some lube oil for the chains as we we are nearly out.

We stopped at a supermarket where I grabbed some lunch items that we proceeded to demolish outside.

We headed back to Wilderswil and chilled. 49 km ride, with a few harder climbs than ideal, but we will feel refreshed for tomorrow.

We went for a 4 km or so walk around the village, found a small supermarket and purchased items for a simple cold dinner.

I’m intending to sleep earlier tonight, which in turn probably means I will wake super early.

Tomorrow, we head to Luzern, a beautiful city and location. Hoping the rain holds off until we have crossed Brunig Pass, which is just over 1000 metres altitude. The web cam there is currently not working.

Thanks for reading, stay safe, smile on 😊

Aare River, Interlaken