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a blog by Chris Barrow

Day 4 of the Asto Clinic "Everest challenge" - Wine tasting, Mad Drivers and Exhilarating Downhills

Once more I wake at 06:30 and spend some time at my laptop, updating these blog posts for you, as well as keeping a general eye on my social media and (yes) work messages and emails - welcome to the freelancer lifestyle.

When that’s done I meet with Steve in the garden for cereals and good coffee and we chat about the day ahead - which begins for real when we depart at around 09:30 - and on plan for a big day.

Any cyclist will know that these days always begin with a mental checklist:

  • Bike computer;

  • Lights front and rear;

  • Check the wheels and tyres for any damage from the previous day;

  • Check brakes;

  • In the top bag - energy gels, cereal bars, battery charger, house keys;

  • Water bottles full and hydration tablets added;

  • Kit on and spare kit (gilet) in back pocket;

  • iPhone in back pocket.

Good to go.

After a quick return to the centre of Vence, we make steady progress through the Saturday morning town centre traffic and on to the rolling hillside road towards Le Broc.

Along the way, Steve directs me towards a side road - “I just want to show you something” (which I interpret as yet another stunning view) and he then suddenly dismounts and walks down a gravel hillside path and into Vignoble Rasse Saint-Jeannet Vindazur, in simple terms, a vineyard has stood here for 2,000 years and they still line gigantic glass flagons along the wall to mature in the sunshine.

We walk around the building to admire the original art created by one of the brothers who own the place - and also enjoy a small taste of a 2022 red - very young but clearly headed for a great future.

I did not expect to be wine-tasting at 10:30 this morning.

Onwards through successive beautiful hillside towns and villages - Gattières - Carros - Le Broc - and there may have been a cheeky stop for coffee and a slice of Steve’s Mum’s fruit cake along the way (still moist after it’s journey from the UK).

After all this fun, it’s time to get serious now and start climbing to respectable altitude - and so we begin a very long and arduous climb into the mountains, again using villages as our way-points - Bézaudun-les-Alpes to Coursegoules, where we do stop for some of the house speciality - a prune cake dessert with ice cream on the side as we watch many other cyclists taking advantage of the same pit stop.

We have reached around 3,000 feet altitude by this point and have earned the right to enjoy some amazing downhills - some times long and straight, we can hunker down over the handlebars and hit over 50 km per hour, staying very focused to watch out for rock fall on the road, incoming traffic and, perhaps most importantly, those “car behind!” moments when 80% of the drivers will give us a wide berth and (sadly) 20% appear to be complete idiots who will overtake on straights when there is oncoming traffic or bends where they cannot see what’s coming.

One particular group of 3 petrolheads in supercars overtake us so closely that their wings mirrors are less than a metre away and we can feel the backdraught from the vehicles - they (the drivers) have no idea how much danger they are putting us in - one burst tyre, chain link broken - whatever in the moment, could be disastrous.

Cipières - Gorges du Loup - easily the most exhilarating downhill I’ve ever done - winding roads with the steep cliffs either side, hairpins, waterfalls, tunnels - and pinned to the line of Steve’s travel, looking out for his hand signals to warn of danger or the need to slow.

At Pont sur Loup, Steve asks me to take the lead for the long run down the Route de la Colle and I absolutely “beast it” to my limits on the slow descent - by the time we get to the end I’m hanging over the bars and gasping for lungfuls of air.

From there, a more steady and sedate progress in the growing late afternoon heat towards La Colle-sur-Loup and then the spectacular St Paul de Vence.

And then, Steve has once last surprise for me - Le Mur (the wall) - a short, sharp, super-steep incline to bring us back up the hills towards Vence - 165 feet of climbing that has my lungs bursting and my legs on fire - average 21% incline (on Strava) - it hurts.

From there, a few more hills (or “little ramps” as Steve calls them) and we are back at home.

100 kilometres, 5 hours 18 minutes in the saddle, 1,577 metres = 5,174 feet - taking us over the 20,000 feet mark to 20,286.


"When I first referred myself to the ASTO Clinic my life was at a standstill. 

I was struggling to work, function and maintain relationships.  My OCD was taking over my life and fear ruled me of every minute of my day.  My first session online was liberating as I found peers that had the same struggles as me. 

Our group of people have experienced EVERY theme.  I quickly learnt that the theme didn't matter, what matter had been my reaction to my thoughts.  I could change.  The group work helped me share with peers and it felt less intensive and we all shared "Eureka” moments together. 

I felt supported from the first moment I reached out to ASTO and made my first telephone call with the wonderful Sue.  I experienced support from our first interaction. Having Karen co facilitate our group was helpful as someone who had received and shared similar experiences to how we were all thinking.

Please know you are not your thoughts. 

You wont believe this yet, but all humans have the thoughts that we experience.  The main difference is we are distressed and most people without our condition simply move on from them and place no importance on their thoughts.  That is the key to recovering from our condition, OUR response to our thoughts. 

I live a good life and am a CEO looking to change the way mental health services are delivered to be more accessible to all.

Believe in the programme.  It works!”

Mike Graham

CEO of a large Mental Health Charity

12th March 2024

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